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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow How to Stop Self-Destructive Behavior and Take Care of Yourself

How to Stop Self-Destructive Behavior and Take Care of Yourself

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 8, 2023
7 min read 1307 Views 0 Comments
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Self-destructive thoughts and behaviors can consume your life and cause long-lasting damage to your mental health. In this article, we discuss the importance of overcoming self-destructive behavior with 7 tips to help you break the cycle.

how to stop self-destructive behavior

Is self-destructive behavior taking over your life?

Most people self-sabotage at one time or another. It can be so subtle that you don’t even know you’re doing it, and it’s often unintentional. Some people, however, struggle to resist the urge to engage in self-destructive behavior, despite being aware of the consequences of their actions.

Self-destructive behavior is a form of self-harm. It describes any form of behavior that inflicts harm or potential harm on the individual, and it can be physical or emotional. Self-destructive behavior patterns can become uncontrollable habits that lead to poor mental health.

Read on to find out how you can take control of self-destructive behavior to lead a happier life.

7 Practical Tips on How to Stop Self-Destructive Behavior

Moving past self-destructive behaviors can help you take control of your life and improve your mental well-being. It can be challenging to face your self-harm behaviors, but overcoming these tendencies is crucial for breaking out of your vicious cycle.

Here are 7 positive actions you can take to conquer self-destructive habits.

#1 Define what triggers you

There is usually a trigger for unhealthy coping mechanisms. The urge to self-destruct doesn’t occur for no reason. It stems from negative emotions, and there is usually a root cause. If you can identify your triggers, you can work to prevent them and approach situations differently.

A good way to identify the psychological triggers that fuel your self-destructive tendencies is to retrace your steps. Think about the last time you felt the urge to take self-destructive actions. Did something happen right beforehand? Were you experiencing painful emotions?

It can be tough, but analyzing these situations can help you find patterns and discover possible causes of your negative thoughts and behaviors.

#2 Find support

You don’t have to tackle your self-destructive behaviors alone. Finding support from healthy relationships in your life, be it friends or family members, can assist you in your journey to building healthier habits. Those close to you can also help you recognize your unhealthy behaviors.

You can read educational content, engage in an activity plan, and write in the mood journal to keep track of your daily thoughts and mood. Journaling is a constructive way to manage your feelings, spot patterns in your self-destructive behaviors, and manage mental health symptoms.

#3 Focus on your mental well-being

Focusing on your mental health can make you feel better about yourself and help stop self-destructive behaviors. It gives you a chance to tune into your feelings and address negative emotions that are troubling you. Taking time for yourself can also help you manage stress and anxiety.

There are lots of ways to focus on your mental wellness. Practicing self-care is an essential strategy for keeping your mind healthy. Simple things like going for a morning walk, stretching, and eating a balanced diet can boost your mood and promote more self-awareness.

#4 Break free from shame

Shame is a negative emotion that fills you with self-doubt. It can make you feel inadequate and like you’re a bad person.

Shame is often a core trigger of self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes, feelings of shame can become overwhelming to the point where you can see no other option than to self-destruct. Unfortunately, engaging in certain behaviors can create further feelings of guilt and shame.

It’s an internal struggle that is difficult to overcome, but freeing yourself of these intense feelings is integral to saying goodbye to negative behaviors. There’s no quick fix, but being kind to yourself and showing self-compassion will aid your healing journey.

#5 Try not to act impulsive

It’s not easy, but try to delay acting on impulse. Taking a moment to think about what you’re about to do can help mitigate self-destructive behaviors. Your intense urge may decrease if you wait a certain amount of time rather than immediately engaging in a particular behavior.

Another strategy to combat impulsive behavior is to question yourself. For example, when you feel the urge to do something, ask yourself why. You can also consider the outcome of your actions and how they might make you feel later. A little mindfulness in these scenarios can go a long way.

#6 Work toward healthier coping skills

Unhealthy habits are hard to change, especially if you’ve used destructive behavior as a coping mechanism for a long time. Leaving your self-destructive behaviors behind takes time. It won’t happen overnight, but you can continuously work toward managing your feelings and building new habits.

There are many ways to create healthier coping strategies. For example, instead of drinking alcohol, try meeting with a friend to share your feelings. You can also include creating a to-do list, going for a long run, and practicing meditation and deep breathing.

#7 Try therapy

If you’re struggling to gain control over your self-destructive behaviors, you might want to consider therapy. A professional can work with you to establish healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with mental health issues, such as stress, depression, and anxiety disorder.

Often, people who engage in self-destructive behaviors have a history of childhood trauma. A therapist can help you identify underlying causes and support you as you delve into past experiences. You can attend face-to-face sessions or have online therapy from the comfort of your home.

Why Am I Self-Destructive?

If you frequently engage in self-destructive behavior, you’re probably wondering why. The truth is many factors can contribute to human behavior. For example, it could be the result of certain life experiences. It could also stem from a mental health condition or mental illness.

Self-destructive behavior is often linked to common conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia and binge eating

Certain environmental factors and life events can also make you prone to engaging in harmful behavior. Things like childhood trauma, physical and mental abuse, low self-esteem, drinking alcohol, and taking other drugs are common factors that can trigger vicious cycles of self-destruction.

The reasons for self-destructive behaviors vary from person to person. Talking to a healthcare professional can help you unpack your emotions and work toward uncovering the origin of your behaviors. Once you can understand your behavior better, you can try to stop self-destructing.

How to Help Someone With Self-Destructive Behavior

If somebody you care about is showing signs of self-destructive behavior, there are lots of ways that you can offer support. You can start by giving reassurance that you are there for them and providing an open space where they can feel comfortable talking to you when ready.

You can also encourage them to seek professional help from a therapist or doctor. However, you shouldn’t try to force them to get help. Instead, explore their reasons for not wanting support, making it clear that you are not here to judge or push them into anything.

You can also help by suggesting healthy activities for you to do together. You could encourage going out for tasty food or taking up a new hobby, such as nordic walking. Nature can boost mental health and help people focus on their emotional well-being.

If you’re unsure about a person’s actions, here are some signs of self-destructive behaviors:

  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Excessively drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs
  • Disordered eating
  • Hair pulling, cutting, and other forms of self-injury
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Frequent self-criticism
  • Suicide attempts

A Word From a Psychologist

Self-destructive behavior is when someone does something that causes emotional or physical self-harm. It is associated with various unhealthy behaviors, from excessive shopping to binge drinking. It can also range in terms of severity from minor to life-threatening.

There is no single cause of self-destructive behavior, and the reasons vary greatly between individuals. Getting support from a mental health professional is important to determine if your actions are part of a mental health disorder. They can then assist you with the best treatment.

The treatment required depends on the personal needs of the individual engaging in such behaviors. It often includes therapy, which helps you talk about how you feel and begin to understand where your behavior originates. It can also help you discover your triggers.

Medication may be an option for mental health conditions like anxiety disorders and depression.

At home, there are some things you can try yourself. It mostly comes down to practicing good self-care to make you feel better overall. A healthy lifestyle that prioritizes sleep, diet, and exercise can improve emotional wellness and help prevent a poor mental state in the future.

Try to cut out the things that negatively impact your body and mind, such as alcohol, junk food, and unhealthy relationships. This will allow you a clearer head to organize your thoughts and manage stress levels. Turn your focus to the things that make you feel good about yourself.

Self-destructive thoughts can become incredibly intense. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately.


Self-destructive behavior can range from mild actions to suicidal thoughts. It’s important that you take action to stop self-destructive behaviors before you put yourself in physical danger. While eliminating long-term bad habits is no easy journey, there is hope on the other side.

Talk to your doctor about how you feel and how you behave. They can guide you in seeking therapy and may suggest other valuable strategies that enable you to live a happier life.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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