Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior: Causes, Signs, and Treatment

Self-destructive behavior is any action that is harmful or potentially harmful to the person participating in the behavior. It can range from mild to life-threatening and can be caused by a variety of factors, including childhood trauma, poor hygiene, substance abuse, financial hardship, and mental illness. Self-destructive behavior can also have a negative impact on a person's mental health and social system. The origins of destructive behavior are almost always linked to well-formed narratives.

These narratives serve as templates, or biases, through which we make sense of the world and often manifest themselves in reaction to experiences we face earlier in life or our “origin” stories. Unless we rewrite them, we spend our lives recreating conditions that reinforce them. Signs of self-destructive behavior include excessive attention to oneself, avoidance of opportunities and responsibilities, negative self-talk, isolation from others, and long-term drug abuse. If a person exhibits one type of self-destructive behavior, they are more likely to develop a secondary type of destructive behavior.

Therapy is generally recommended for people who have self-destructive tendencies because it can get to the root of feelings of shame and guilt likely caused by harmful behaviors in the first place. Although studies have been conducted that confirm that self-destructive behavior is part of certain disorders, there is no solid evidence that self-destructive behavior exists in people without underlying dysfunction or psychological diagnoses.