What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

The types of self-destructive behaviors run the gamut from seemingly harmless actions like compulsive shopping to dangerous and sometimes fatal actions like attempting suicide. What makes a person succumb to self-destructive behavior? Many of us question whether it has to do with our brain activity, genetic makeup, depression, or a combination of variables. The answers may be as varied as the destructive behaviors themselves. We will explore some self-destructive behaviors, including substance abuse, and discuss unhealthy habits and recovery options.

What Constitutes Self-Destructive Behaviors?

We have all done something self-destructive in our lives, but for most of us, it is not intentional. On a different note, self-destructive behavior involves doing something to cause self-harm. Obvious self-destructive behaviors are self-injury, binge eating, substance abuse, and attempting suicide. Less noticeable behaviors include chronic avoidance, passive aggressiveness, and self-derogation.

The process of self-destruction is active and inflammatory, functioning against the person’s interests. Components consist of beliefs and emotions reflecting a pattern of self-abuse which affects the person’s well-being and erodes interpersonal relationships. The following are some theoretical perspectives for self-destruction:

  • A motivated wish or need (in other words, the death instinct)
  • An outcome of emotional distress and failure to protect the self
  • A result of distorted cognitions
  • The general feature of the personality


Approximately five percent of the population hurt their body on purpose, a condition named self-harm. People who purposely commit self-harm do not generally intend to kill themselves. However, they are at more risk of suicide if their self-harm worsens and they fail to seek help. Females tend toward self-harm at a higher rate than males.

Cutting is an example of self-harm, a form of release for some people. For others, cutting is a coping mechanism they use to relieve loneliness or hopelessness. Self-harm tends to begin during the teens and sometimes progresses into adulthood. 

Below are other forms of self-harm:

  • Burning the body with cigarettes or matches
  • Piercing the body with objects
  • Punching oneself or a wall
  • Breaking bones
  • Bruising the body
  • Pulling hair out

Self-Destructive Behaviors and Suicide

Suicidal ideation encompasses a person thinking about killing themselves. They may or may not intend to die by suicide or have the plan to do so, but it is in their thoughts. It is imperative to assert that not all people with suicidal ideation act upon it. However, seeking professional help is a strong recommendation. Some risk factors for suicidal ideation are inadequate social interaction, poor physical health, sleep problems, exhaustion, loneliness, and mental health issues. 

Stress and fatigue realized during the pandemic remain a concern with the medical sector and first responders, as new variants create subsequent urgent situations. Studies reveal that some suicidal people actively create negative events in their lives by creating internal and external stressors. Further, those self-harmful processes present as pain that may lead to suicide. Again, professional help is fundamental and crucial to recovery from thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

Substance Abuse and Your Brain

Self-harm using alcohol or drugs is a common occurrence but no less dangerous than most other self-destructive behaviors. The fact is substance abuse severely affects the brain and its functioning

Most people do not know or think about what substance use does to the brain. However, it is important to educate yourself regarding anything that goes into your body. Substance abuse interferes with your brain’s communication and can affect the way your brain processes information. 

Each substance affects the body and brain at a different pace and level. Most severe alcohol or drug self-harm comes from long-term abuse. The brain incurs physical changes and shrinks. It also obtains harm that reflects in impulse control and the ability to process information. 

When someone drinks or uses a drug, dopamine enters the system and makes them feel good. With prolonged substance use, dopamine’s effect lessens, and the person must ingest more substances to experience that anticipated good feeling. As a result, the brain’s frontal lobe shrinks, affecting the brain’s ability to function properly. The brain’s frontal lobe is a regulator of our decisions and the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.

Controlling Self-Destructive Behaviors

An individual’s reasoning for self-harm is very personal. That said, what happens when the harm gets out of control? Keeping self-destructive behaviors a secret will not help contain or lessen the pain or the repetitive process. 

It is not easy to let go of our personal, secretive ways of coping with life. However, continuing with the same behaviors may result in dire circumstances that could endanger a person’s existence. If you or a loved one are self-harming, seek help from a therapist or treatment center with professionally managed programs and therapies. You matter, as does your quality of life.

At SoCal Mental Health, we believe that mental health is a part of your well-being and vital to your quality of life. Dealing with self-destructive behaviors takes vigilance and persistence to learn and manage symptoms related to mental health and self-harm. Our programs help clients manage treatment using planned and defined therapies to aid healing and recovery. Everyone in treatment, relapse, or healing needs support. SoCal Mental Health is here to help those struggling. If you or your family are having difficulty coping with self-harm and are struggling, do not hesitate to ask for help. You do not have to go through this alone. Don’t wait. To find out more, call SoCal Mental Health today at (949) 502-2041.

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