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Now, when I can easily talk about that time, I admit: I used to be engaged in self-destructive behavior. You could say that anyone is subject to self-destructive behaviours, but the thing is in borders. While we often think of these disorders as typical of adolescents and young adults, they actually cover all age and socio-economic groups.

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We must define self-destructive behavior as any activity which poses a threat to mental or physical well-being that is self-imposed, that an individual has made a life-choice engaging in such behavior – it is not imposed by any external source. These behaviors may be relatively mild, such as avoiding certain responsibilities, to severe, including eating disorders, addictions, and self-mutilation. When severe self-destructive behaviors result in death, it is usually by accident, as the individual does not consciously choose death. Thus, someone with anorexia may die, but s/he has not chosen that result.

Causes Of Self-Destructive Behaviors

Psychologists agree that there are multiple causes for self-destructive behavior. They may be coping mechanisms, adopted to deal with stress, pressure, or social demands. They may also result from low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. In these instances, the individual uses the behaviors as a way of staying within the comfort zone of being at the “bottom of the social ladder.” In addition, they typically isolate themselves and refuse any kind of help.

Types Of Self-Destructive Behaviors

There are self-destructive behaviors that have no outward signs, and we often miss them in ourselves and others. These includes:

  • Maintaining a self-defeating mindset: When we make such statements as, “I know I can’t do this,” or “I’ll never get through this,” we are setting ourselves up to fail and fulfilling our own low opinion of ourselves.
  • Passive acceptance of something we know is bad for us rather than taking any action to avoid or remedy it. A smoker knows that the habit is harmful, yet continues to engage in it rather than make an effort to quit.

Other behaviors are more observable and more dangerous:

  • Over-Eating: People with low self-esteem often try to reinforce that they are worthless by this bad habit. If they are overweight, then they are less socially acceptable and can avoid social situations.
  • Under-Eating Disorders: Anorexia and bulimia result from severe self-esteem issues and the belief that social acceptance will come from an extremely thin body.
  • Deliberate Incompetence: This often occurs in a school setting, in which the self-destructive individual sees himself as not smart enough to learn and then fulfills that prophecy by taking no steps to learn. This often carries over into an adulthood of long periods of unemployment and job-hopping due to getting fired often. The individual is reinforcing his feeling of no worth.
  • Self-Mutilation: These behaviors range from pulling out hair and eyebrows to picking at one’s skin to cutting. Other behaviors may include excessive tattooing and piercing.
  • Abusive Relationships: Again, the low sense of worth is reinforced by seeking or staying in such relationships. This may also include relationships with friends and co-workers in which the individual is taken advantage of.
  • Rejecting Others: This is a classic behavior that stems from the need to avoid being rejected.
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse: The individual may consciously understand the risks and the harm but chooses to continue as a coping mechanism to escape normal productive social interactions.
  • Social Sabotage: The individual deliberately engages in unacceptable behavior in order to be rejected by others. This reinforces the sense of not being worthy.
  • Gambling and Wasteful Spending

Methods Of Overcoming Self-Destructive Behaviors

There is no single “magic pill” that will cure behaviors that are self-defeating or destructive. And people have these behaviors at all levels and degrees. For mild forms that have a low-level impact on your life, it may be enough to simply educate yourself a bit and find ways to counter those thoughts and behaviors that may be holding you back.

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For others, therapy is certainly in order. Finding the right therapist can be a bit tricky, for they have a myriad of approaches from behavior modification to focusing on the root causes, and many combinations of those two extremes. One model of therapy that is showing great promise is Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on thought processes rather than root causes or behavior modification. The idea is that if thoughts can be changed, no matter where they came from, the behavior will change as well.

Sports & Exercise As A Therapy

Another promising approach to reducing and eliminating self-destructive behavior is to involve the individual in some type of physical sports activity. Choosing one at which the individual can experience success is extremely important, for each of those successes will begin to chip away at the feelings of worthlessness. Two types of athletic activities can serve to improve self-image and esteem:

  1. Team Sports

For those individuals who are social sabotagers, meeting with success in a group environment can begin to relieve the need to isolate oneself. There is a great sense of belonging that comes from involvement in a group that has a productive purpose.

 Meeting with success in this team environment also serves to improve self-esteem and reinforce a willingness to take on risks and challenges in other facets of life.

  1. Individual Activities

For individuals whose social anxiety is extreme, immersion into a team sport is not possible initially. However, there are a number of individual physical goals that can be set and met – losing weight, gaining weight, jogging, aerobics, Yoga, etc. When these goals are set and achieved, self-esteem improves and newer, more challenging goals can then be set. Successes can bring about big changes in personal branding from someone who cannot to someone who can. And just as with successes in team sports, the changes in thought about oneself will carry over to other facets of life.

No one exists without some self-doubt, stress, and anxiety. These things are a natural part of being a member of the human race and of operating within our own home, school, and work environments. Even when people enter environments with low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness, they, eventually, find ways to cope and to allay the negative beliefs they have about themselves, overcome the fear of communication, and become more confident.

The path to achieving a greater sense of self-worth is a gradual one, and it comes in small steps. Understanding that low self-esteem is the cause of these behaviors is the first step, of course. Beyond that, those who commit to getting healthier or those who want to assist others in getting healthier should look for activities that will promote a good sense of self. Sports activities are ideal because the results are visible and concrete.


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