How to stop self destructive behaviors

Part 4 of a 4-Part Series
In this last article in a four-part series on helpful tips for dealing with depression and stop self-destructive behavior, I discuss the technique called Prevent Destructive Behavior. This is a crucial topic in dealing with depression. Many depressed people find that the smallest thoughts or events can send them into a downward spiral that makes them feel out of control. This article offers hope by showing that there is something you can do to temper the emotions that prompt you to engage in self-destructive behavior.

Planning How to Deal with Depression and Stop Self-Destructive Behavior

Depressed people often report that they can shift from feeling fine one moment to falling apart the next. Moreover, there is a tendency is to make yourself feel even worse by acting impulsively, such as breaking up with a boyfriend who postponed your date, or drinking a bottle of wine when you are disappointed over a small thing. When you are feeling fine, it is important to plan what kind of help you will need, and from whom, when you are in a more distraught frame of mind. Learning how to slow down and stop the rapid slide into depression is crucial, as is learning how to self-soothe and manage negative emotions.

Here are some exercises that can help you to make plans for how to deal with depression.

Activities to Distract You from Depression

When feeling fine, make a list of distractions that you can utilize when you are feeling distressed. Make sure that you write down enjoyable activities, such as listening to music, watching a show, or playing a game. You will need this list because it can be difficult to remember them when you are feeling upset. Store this list somewhere easily accessible and turn to it when you start to feel a downward spiral.

People You Can Turn to when Depressed

Create a list of people who will serve as a lifeline, people you can call when the destructive and downward spiral starts. Next, work with your counselor or trusted other to create a list of soothing, distracting ideas that you can employ in the case that someone on your lifeline is not available.

Journaling when Dealing with Depression

Describing the following points in your journal can be very insightful and empowering. You can follow this plan of journaling with a counselor, a trusted other, or by yourself.

  1. What do I feel in my body?
  2. Are these sensations familiar?
  3. What is the earliest age I remember feeling this way?
  4. Can I get a memory of a situation in which I had this feeling or even just an image of myself, like a snapshot, feeling this?
  5. Is there any similarity between the two experiences (former and current)?
  6. What did others do then?
  7. What did I do then?
  8. What are others doing now?
  9. What do I want to do now?

This plan of journaling serves to integrate feeling and thought, and to strengthen that connection. It helps to lessen the intensity when the feeling arises in the future. Remember that a feeling is just a feeling, and it will pass.

Develop and Practice Compassion

Depressed people are often harsh and inflexible in their judgment of themselves and others. People can get stuck in negative thought patterns as they ruminate on negative experiences. It is necessary to find a way to interrupt this rumination in order to open up a new understanding of oneself and others. Try this exercise:

  1. Find a situation in which you feel no compassion. Write or talk about the behavior but not the motivation behind it.
  2. See the part of you (or the other person) that is struggling.
  3. Address that part with, “Oh dear. You are struggling.”
  4. Ask, “What is making this so hard?”
  5. Listen to the answer.
  6. Say, “You are right. That is hard.” Stop there.
  7. What does it feel like to end it there?
  8. Spend some time meditating on compassion or praying for compassion.

Christian Counseling for Dealing with Depression

As a Christian counselor, I am convinced that we do not need to be incapacitated by feelings of depression. If you feel stuck in a negative and downward spiral, or find yourself dwelling on negative or self-destructive behavior, please consider calling a Christian counselor. Help and hope are available.


The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.

How to stop self destructive behaviors

Men and women who carry out self destructive behavior demonstrate the habit over and over again without repose. These behaviors include every aspect of life, from work to family to romantic relationships; the list literally goes on forever. These behaviors have negative impacts on their lives, which serves them with rejection, disappointment, and failure to find happiness. Subsequently, the ramifications of these self destructive behaviors form a downward spiral to various levels of suffering. The unintended consequences of such behavior have negative impacts not just for the victim themselves, but also for those around them. Each behavior can be stacked on another and lead to a complex layering of social dysfunction.

Often, the individuals suffering from these routines or involuntary behaviors are aware of the situation, but are either unwilling or unable to rectify the urge to self-sabotage. Sometimes the behaviors themselves have a positive feeling, but that feeling eventually degrades over time. This may lead to the individual seeking more damaging behaviors to fill the void of the initial issue that started it all. How to stop self destructive behavior becomes important when it reaches a level that threatens safety, well-being, or life in general. That is why it is important to understand the generation of such self-defeating rituals and what they are.

Signs of Self Destructive Behavior

How to stop self destructive behavior? First, you must identify those behaviors, so you can deal with them accordingly. These include:

  • Self Mutilation or Injury (NSSI)
  • Vaping or Smoking
  • Eating Disorder (IE: Bulimia, Anorexia)
  • Hermit Syndrome
  • Abusive Relationship Seeking
  • Cell Phone/Tablet Addiction
  • Gambling
  • Unsafe Sexual Practices
  • Sleep Escapism
  • Suicide Attempts
  • Violence Towards Others

Many of these behaviors tend to appear together or replace each other when going untreated. Addictions form and patterns emerge that cause pain and suffering for those afflicted. Many times, these signs are hidden in plain sight under social conventions that are considered acceptable in society. For instance, social drinking or smoking can seem harmless from the casual observer, but might be a gateway into more harmful behaviors.

The Environment Becomes Us

Human beings are complex animals with intricate social, cultural, and religious traditions, which are triggered, shaped, and exploited by mechanisms of an economic system. The environmental pressures and stresses truly impact the development of human beings throughout their lives. Often, the human psyche is too weak to thwart the advancement of pressures in advertising and social networks. These networks include childhood groups, cliques, and teams, as well as family and work relationships. Everyone is pulling and picking at everyone else in some form or another, which is why peer pressure can trigger certain behaviors early in development.

How to stop self destructive behavior that originates in childhood is one of the first aspects that must be addressed. Many studies suggest that adults that suffer from self destructive behavior and habits have histories of childhood trauma in their early developmental years and throughout adolescence. These moments of disruption, chaos, or even abuse build the foundation of poor choices and bad habits. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse contribute to the likelihood of severe outcomes for those involved, which may include life threatening, self-harming types of behaviors. Issues will also arise due to neglect or psychological abuse by parents or guardians, which may be another source of these negative behaviors. This is why it is important for family, teachers, and neighbors to intervene when these problems become apparent. Society, as a whole, must take responsibility for everyone in the community rather than just themselves if we are truly to tackle these social ills.

Changing the environment is usually helpful when dealing with issues that may be triggered or enhanced by a place where these behaviors originated. This sometimes means taking drastic measures and removing the individual from the environment that created the original trauma. It is necessary to retreat from negative spaces that contain triggers and enabling factors, so one can separate from the places the toxic behavior manifests. Safe spaces or even places of solitude should be considered when dealing with behavior issues.

Meditation and Mindfulness as Treatment

If you struggle with self destructive behaviors, the practice of mindfulness meditation has the potential to release the sufferer from the attachment to the behavior. The process of detaching oneself and perceiving your actions with a nonjudgmental attitude creates a shift in perspective. This perspective can lead a person to discover themselves as the object of awareness, rather than a victim of an experience. Taking this step back, this practice can remove the ego and replace it with a sense of observation that can be used to dismantle the negative behaviors that have taken over the individual. This newly acquired and practiced discipline, if harnessed, can have life changing results.

There are other aspects of mindfulness involving diet and exercise that can help pull the afflicted from the behaviors by replacing the old routines with new, healthier ways. Yoga and exercise in general can stimulate healthy endorphin production that can ease the transition away from the unhealthy emotional chemical dependencies. Adding swimming to someone’s routine can also promote a state of equilibrium and renewal. Bringing fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables to one’s diet can also help reinforce the transition with necessary vitamins and fiber for a healthy gut biome. The gut biome is very important in the production of amino acids and other building blocks of a healthy immune system that promotes general well-being.

Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Self Destructive Behavior Programs

Elevation Behavioral Health is a Los Angeles-based residential recovery program that offers behavior corrective services and comprehensive trauma and self harm treatments for individuals with destructive behaviors ranging from substance abuse to suicidal tendencies. Our luxury accommodations in beautiful and serene settings help provide a comfortable and healing environment while patients engage in comprehensive treatment programs geared towards their recovery. For more information about the program, please contact Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 643-7135.

Stress manifests itself in many ways, including physical and emotional symptoms like irritability, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, and muscle tension. It can also spur us to engage in negative behaviors like overeating, withdrawing from social activities and drinking alcohol. We know these outlets for stress are not good for us, but we feel almost powerless to stop.

People who are under a lot of strain, like family caregivers, often find it challenging to practice self-care. This is a normal consequence of feeling overworked and underappreciated. But, when one goes beyond skipping regular workouts and also begins subsisting on junk food, it can set a dangerous cycle of self-neglect in motion. For some people, especially those with a history of addiction or an inability to deal with stress constructively, alcohol, drugs and even gambling may be used as a makeshift escape from the difficult emotions that taxing situations elicit.

Why We Sabotage Our Own Well-Being

Sheila Forman, J.D., Ph.D., CGP, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Best Diet Begins in Your Mind: Eliminate the Eight Emotional Obstacles to Permanent Weight Loss, says that most harmful habits spring from a person’s inability to respond to difficult situations in a productive way.

The irony of self-destructive behaviors is that we turn to these things to relieve stress and make ourselves feel better, but they usually make us feel worse. Not only will you feel physically crummy after overindulging in food or drink, but you’ll probably end up feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself for not setting boundaries and respecting them. This only causes more tension in your life and will likely cause you to perpetuate this behavior.

Being a family caregiver is challenging enough to make anyone turn to an easy source of comfort. Unfortunately, most immediate stress relievers like alcohol, food and drugs take a serious toll on the body, especially if they become a regular source of relief. Your mental and physical well-being aren’t just important for you; this also matters to those who love and depend on you. Forming negative habits at such a difficult time will only increase the likelihood that caregivers may develop their own health problems or pass away before their care recipients.

How to stop self destructive behaviors

Life is just like a roller-coaster, with a lot of ups and downs. One needs to be strong when going through a difficult time rather than giving up or reacting to them by indulging in self-destructive behaviors. Losing faith in yourself and letting yourself sink in an ocean of grief and hopelessness will make you so weak that you will eventually find yourself to trip over the smallest of obstacles that come in your path. You need to start making an effort immediately to stop self-destructive behaviour and making yourself strong to face anything.

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Do not let yourself fall under the impression that self-destructive behavior is not a recurring habit. If you allow yourself to indulge in it once, there is a very good chance that you will fall back to it again after you somehow manage to put an end to it once. This is what makes such behavior even more dangerous and consequently makes it more important to deal with it as soon as possible.

The very fact that you are walking down a path of self-destruction goes to prove that you have lost faith in yourself and no longer value your own life, health and happiness. For a person who does not love himself, the whole world begins to look dark and gloomy. You have no right to hurt or insult yourself by indulging in destructive behaviors. Put a stop to it and get back to living life to the fullest.

Typically, self-destructive behavior is trigged by an external factor, such as someone else getting more attention than you in college, your brother getting far better grades and thus appreciation from parents than you, not living up to someone’s expectations, etc. Keep thoughts such as “others are better than me” or “others are more important than me” out of your mind.

If you identify stress as the main trigger of self-destructive behaviors, work on dealing with stress in a much better and more positive fashion rather than letting you push you over the cliff. Start going taking long walks, playing sports, or doing something that you love. This will help take your mind off stuff that is bothering you.

Do you have an elder or much more experienced person around you? Talk to them and communicate how you feel. They may be able to guide you on facing the everyday challenges that life throws at you and help you find both inner strength and peace.

Identify the triggers that cause you to indulge in destructive behavior and learn ways to counteract them. This can include coping with the triggers, getting help from friends, reading books, distracting yourself, etc.

Yet we continue to overeat, smoke, drink excessively, shop compulsively and engage in a variety of other activities that are detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

The answer may surprise you.

The Development of Self Destructive Behavior

Internalization of a Negative Belief

Self destructive behavior typically starts with a negative belief about yourself. You aren’t happy with the way you look. You don’t think you’re intelligent enough. You don’t feel worthy of love.

These beliefs are often formed during childhood and can be indirectly communicated to us by others including; parents, peers and society. We internalize these messages which begin to affect all of the decisions we make about ourselves and the world around us.

Though we may not be aware of it, we unconsciously seek to punish ourselves for our perceived inadequacies.

Temporary Relief from Negative Emotions

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Engaging in self destructive behavior provides temporary relief from uncomfortable emotions. At first, this seems counterintuitive. Hurting yourself makes you feel better?

Take for example, a man who was taunted in school as a young boy. He learned to dislike himself and developed extreme social anxiety. As a coping mechanism and a way to avoid feeling, he begins smoking. Smoking significantly numbs him, reducing his anxiety and enabling him to deal with daily stressors. Though the cigarettes are damaging to his health, the immediate relief he receives is enough to outweigh any potential long term negative consequences.


Overtime, these self destructive behaviors become habitual. You may no longer feel you have control. You may not even remember when and why they began. Paradoxically, the original emotion that triggered the self destructive behavior may no longer be present. The coping mechanisms you developed at a young age have now essentially become outdated.

Eliminating Self Destructive Behavior

Knowing where to begin seems to be the most difficult part of making healthier choices and eliminating self destructive behavior.

You may be wondering if you change the behaviors first and see what emotions come up. Or, do you explore the root cause of the self destructive behavior now and worry about changing the patterns later? In other words, do you approach this behaviorally (change the habit) or psychologically (change the belief)?

The answer is both.

You must address the belief and behavior simultaneously to affect lasting change.

Psychologically: Understand why you engage in the behaviors

It helps if you develop awareness and take responsibility for your behaviors in order to change them. In an effort to protect ourselves, many of us have developed negative coping mechanisms to push deep seated issues below the realm of our conscious awareness. We are afraid to deal with what might be there so we suppress, ignore and mask sources of emotional pain.

Though it may be unpleasant, I encourage you to open yourself up. This is more easily done when you apply the principle of “no blame, no praise.” Do not attach positive or negative value to what you discover. Simply allow it to reveal itself to you.

Look back at when the self destructive behaviors began. See what thoughts and feelings emerge. What was happening at the time? What decisions did you make? Discovering what was there in the past will give you greater ability to make healthier choices in the present.

Behaviorally: Develop healthier ways to reduce uncomfortable feelings and emotions

In childhood, we have a limited way of dealing with negative experiences and emotions. We all did the best we could with the information and resources available to us at the time. As an adult, you now possess greater insight, knowledge and skills. You have the power to choose healthier ways of coping.

One way to change behaviors you don’t like is to find the positive intention behind the behavior. Assume there was a good reason why the particular behavior developed. Maybe it helped you avoid feeling anxious. Maybe it allowed you to ignore something you didn’t want to deal with. Maybe it provided you with a sense of power.

After you identify the positive intention behind the behavior, take a few minutes to brainstorm new, current ways to accomplish the same intention. Make a list of 3-5 things that you can do now, instead of the old behavior, and pick the one that feels right to you.

The next time you feel yourself slipping into a pattern of self destructive behavior, stop! You can consciously choose a new way of being in the world.

What decisions will you make today?

About the Author
Alana Mbanza is the Content Editor of Green Psychology, a site dedicated to effective communication skills, healthy relationships and personal development.

Stop taking everything too personally and becoming upset by what people say and do.

When Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the newest Oprah’s Book Club pick, Love Warrior, hit rock bottom once again, she realized she couldn’t keep avoiding her real problems—it was time to deal with the core issues that had plagued her for decades. Similarly, writer and social scientist Brené Brown has long been guided by these words from her Texas grandmother:

“You can’t run from trouble. Ain’t no place that far.”

Brené’s most recent book, Rising Strong, is a powerful antidote to the human tendency to bury our heads in the sand. So it’s kismet that Brené and Glennon found each other and collaborated on a project that turbocharges the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Working together, the two devised a blueprint, a step-by-step plan to help people improve their lives by taking charge of their life stories. The resulting e-course, The Wisdom of Story, can be found here. Here’s an exclusive worksheet to help you get going.

At one time or another in our lives, we all face crises. These may be minor dustups that feel major as we’re going through them, or they may be moments of true devastation, crossroads that will redefine us. How do we prepare to face these challenges? How do we do the work necessary to engage in the parts of life that are “brutiful”—the term Glennon uses for the simultaneous brutality and beauty of our darkest times—with honesty, authenticity, courage, and integrity? The first step is to identify the crutches we lean on when the going gets tough and pinpoint how they may be stunting our emotional growth.

The following behaviors are what Glennon and Brené call offloading devices, the easy buttons we push instead of acknowledging we’re in pain. Here are some questions to help you think about which ones you’ve engaged in and consider how that played out. These examples will get you started:

Is it easier for you to get mad and lash out than to say “I’m hurt”?

When a challenging situation arises, do you jump right to faultfinding, payback, or pointing the finger at anyone in your path instead of looking within?

When your emotions start to bubble up in a conflict, is your reflex to respond, “Whatever. I’m fine. No big deal”? Have you perfected the art of cool, pretending all’s well when it’s really not?

Do you regularly take the edge off emotional pain with alcohol, food, drugs, sex, shopping, perfectionism?

Which of the offloading-hurt behaviors do you find yourself using most?

When do you offload hurt in this way?

With whom do you act this way?

What is one strategy you can use to stop offloading hurt and start owning your feelings?

Does it feel a little uncomfortable to look back on that time you expressed extreme road rage with a coworker as witness? Or after that bad day at the office when you let loose on your unsuspecting spouse? Or when you got your 401(k) statement and saw that all your borrowing had left it nearly empty? In this case, discomfort is good! It brings you one step closer to understanding how being truthful about your own story—and sharing it with others—can be transformative. With assistance from Glennon and Brené, you can find a new level of comfort, one born of knowing you haven’t run from trouble—you took it on, and it made you stronger and braver.

6 simple lifestyle changes for health and happiness

How to stop self destructive behaviors © Daryl Cauchi

Recently, I talked about why we self-destruct. It’s because we want to feel good.

When our lifestyles make us feel bad, we habitually turn to the quick fix. This fuels a never ending downward spiral of self destructive behavior that’s hard to stop…

One day you find life has gone pear-shaped, you’re not functioning, not coping.

And you know… big steps don’t work because by the time you’re not coping, you NEED that fix to even function…

The first step is to find STABILITY

Not change everything in one big go… but find stability. A first step to get you back to coping at least a little bit better.

It’s a step to TAKE BACK CONTROL from the vicious cycle that you KNOW is going to only get worse and worse.

And the way you take that first step is to make a PACT.

All steps involve the pact-making process. It’s a decision, a conscious decision to choose the long-term happiness over the short term fix.

You decide to pay the price… to suffer A LITTLE BIT by not allowing every single urge to have your fix, in order to move into STABILITY.

That’s the first step. A step toward the final vision of your healthy life.

And then you consolidate your step, get comfy with your new control, new stability and then move forward by making another PACT.

These PACTS should ideally be written in BLOOD!

These are serious decisions you make that you follow through on COME HELL OR HIGH WATER.

We want wins, we want self-trust and confidence in our ability to choose. We don’t want to be the victims of every little urge and whim that comes. That doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel right.

We want the power of “yes” or “no” and to do that we need to be clear about the rules. The rule is our PACT. Our choice… what we really want.

The first step is the hardest

And so the first step is the hardest because we’re not used to taking back control, living proactivity, denying our own urges.

But this we must do and when you do it… it gets easier and easier… the urges will drop away. Your mind will quickly learn that once you DECIDE, there is no point trying to get you to cave. The more resolute you are, the clearer you are, the more solid you are, the easier it will be.

Lack of commitment leads to DITHERING and dithering is your enemy.

It’s a process. Take a sure-fire resolute step, find stability then step again and again, giving your mind and body the time they need to adjust.

Then one day in the not too distant future you’ll find yourself in a totally different place because of your own power and choosing. A place where life is easy, life is fun, and you have energy and clear thoughts.

To stop self destructive behavior, see the finish-line and make a pact, find stability and step into your happy future.

Impulsivity is equal parts exhilarating and dangerous. When this ADHD symptom leads to self-destructive behaviors, good old fashioned will power is no use. Learn how to name your bad habits honestly, inventory their negative consequences, and release yourself from their grip.

How to stop self destructive behaviors

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If you have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), you know all about impulsivity — taking action or saying something without thinking about it first. There can be some benefits of impulsivity — taking risks that can pay off, for instance. However, the problem with taking action without thinking about it is obvious. Here are some common examples:

  • Drinking too much and paying for it the next day
  • Indulging in promiscuous sex
  • Stalking people on social media
  • Spending too much money
  • Eating unhealthy food

Advertising is designed to make you want to buy things you don’t need, eat foods that aren’t good for you, and to care about things that aren’t in your best interest. While many of us are swayed by these pitches, people with ADHD are sitting ducks.

Make a List of Negative Consequences

One strategy I developed to work with clients who are impulsive is to have them write down, on a 3 X 5 index card, or input into their smartphone, a detailed description of the bad things that happen when they indulge in an impulsive behavior. Many times it takes only one pause between impulse and action to stop the action. Imagine seeing a glazed doughnut at Starbucks, and then pulling up a note on your smartphone that reminds you of the consequences of eating it:

1. I will feel guilty all day.

2. I will feel foggy-headed and tired from the sugar crash.

3. I will avoid eating the rest of the day and then get a starvation headache later in the afternoon.

4. I will never meet my goals to slim down and get into 32-waist pants.

After reading that list, how likely are you, on a scale of 1-10, to order the doughnut? A 2 or 3, at most?

A client of mine, Don, watched Internet porn every chance he could. It was easy to access on his iPad, and there was nothing stopping him from watching it. I had him write out a list of problems that porn created in his life. He read them every time he was tempted to log on to his favorite sites:

1. He could pick up a computer bug, causing his iPad to crash.

2. He might not be able to perform in sexual situations, because no woman could compare to what he saw in porn.

3. He was losing interest in his girlfriend, who felt rejected.

4. The more porn he watched, the more hard-core porn he needed to get stimulated (he was truly afraid of how far he might go in searching for a thrill).

5. He spent so much time watching porn that he wasn’t fulfilling his commitments at home and to friends and was falling behind on the job.

After committing to reading his “bad list” before watching porn, he gradually limited his use. Eventually, he was able to be intimate with his girlfriend again and to meet his goals at work. He continued to log on to a handful of porn sites from time to time, but he was now able to limit how much of it he watched.

Review Your List Daily

The second step is to review your written reminders every day. It is not enough to write out the consequences of the behavior you are trying to change. Think of it as taking a daily dose of vitamin C to ward off a cold. Reading your list regularly is preventive medicine.

To ensure that you read it, use prompts. Type your “bad list” into your smartphone and set reminders to read it. Or write the list on a card and put it in your purse or wallet. If the material isn’t sensitive and personal, you could even write the list on a big dry-erase board at home.

Call It What It Is

One way to remember the negative consequences of your destructive behavior is to give it a name that labels it a bad habit. My client who had a habit of getting angry with important people in his life, and who insulted them to their faces, realized how destructive his behavior was. He would fly into a rage when others challenged his plans, or, in some cases, his demands. He had been doing it for years.

After many failed relationships and problems at work, he learned that it was not good to get angry. He wrote out the consequences of this behavior, which included lost jobs, lost customers, and lost romantic relationships, among others. To seal the deal, he called it what it was: “I shoot myself in the foot every time I get angry.”

It’s easy to fool ourselves about our impulsive habits, and to pretend that they are not holding us back. When we call out a bad habit for what it is, we see that it keeps us from what we want. You can overcome bad habits when you call them what they are.

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