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Am I self-destructive?

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Millions of people engage in self-destructive behaviours; some are oblivious to the fact that they are self-destructive, while others do so deliberately. Whether deliberate or not, self-destructive behaviours are deemed to be a means of coping, because persons have not learned more compassionate ways of soothing themselves in times of distress. The way out of the cycle of harm is to learn new ways of short-circuiting untenable thoughts and feelings.{{more}}

It is therefore important that persons learn to “expose the hurt,” which means uncovering the emotional issues in supportive therapy; this way you deal with the deeper traumatic or painful past experiences that have left you feeling unlovable or worthless and have set you up to mistreat yourself through self-harm.

Symptoms and habits

Self-destructive behaviour comes in many guises, some extreme, some not so extreme. Symptoms and/or habits of self-destructive behaviour include the following:

1. Self-Defeating Mindsets: This is an unconscious form of self-destructive behaviour, because it results in self-fulfilling prophecies. Examples include thoughts such as: “I’m going to fail, I just know it; “I am just prone to bad luck; nothing good ever happens to me”; “I will not survive a divorce”, etc.

2. Failing to take action/Procrastination: This is a passive symptom, but still self-destructive in nature. When we know something is bad for us, but fail to take any action or steps to remedy the issue, we are essentially setting ourselves up for, and guaranteeing, failure. Or situations where we keep telling ourselves we have time to fulfill a task, when in reality the time has lapsed.

3. Over-eating: This is a habit that results in many long-term health issues. Some persons are mood-eaters and will do so in excess whenever you are upset or feeling down.

4. Under-eating: Many under-eaters fool themselves into thinking they’re benefiting themselves. Truth is that under-eating is usually a band aid for serious self-image and other psychological issues, such as ‘anorexia nervosa.’

5. Forced Incompetence: This means portraying oneself as unintelligent or incapable of successfully achieving something. Forced incompetence usually stems from a lack of confidence in one’s abilities and can function as a coping mechanism, e.g. academically.

6. Going out of your way to harm others: What goes around comes around they say, and the negative influence you have on others, whether by words or deeds, will eventually manifest itself in your own life (e.g. sicknesses, tragedy, legal issues, isolation).

7. Self-harm: This is an extreme behaviour. Self-harm is a sign of self-hatred and is mentally and physically destructive.

8. Self-pity: This is an unconsciously manifested form of self-destructive behaviour. Self-pity is destructive because it encourages us to remain inactive (i.e. wallowing in our misfortunes), rather than encouraging a proactive approach towards life.

9. Drug and alcohol abuse: A self-evident form of destructive behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse creates endless misery in the lives of addicts and their friends and family members.

10. Social suicide: Not always committed consciously, social suicide is the act of deliberately alienating yourself from your peers. This could be through a variety of irritating, repelling or antisocial behaviours.

11. Hiding from emotions: Failing to acknowledge negative (and sometimes positive) emotions creates a host of mental, emotional and physiological illnesses. This is another form of unconsciously manifested self-destructive behaviour.

12. Refusing to be helped: Pushing away advice, refusing to go to rehab, avoiding the psychologist … not wanting to be helped cries “I don’t care about my well-being!” and screams “self-sabotage!”

13. Unnecessary self-sacrifice: Some people are in love with their misery because that is all they have known for a large portion of their lives. Unnecessary self-sacrifice is a good way of making one feel “noble” and “altruistic,” while masking the actual act of self-sabotage: giving up on hopes, dreams and passions that make one truly happy.

14. Spending too much: Whether through chronic gambling or constant online purchases, overspending may seem unusual to have on this list, but is nevertheless a form of self-destructive behaviour that limits one’s freedom and peace of mind.

15. Physical neglect: Getting poor sleep, refusing to exercise, eating unhealthy foods, and failing to maintain the general well-being of your body are all classic signs of self-destructive behaviour.

16. Mental neglect: Refusing, avoiding or failing to confront our psychological health issues (e.g. stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia, OCD, etc) delays the healing process, resulting in significant long-term issues.

17. Sabotaging relationships: This is a complex one, and involves a large variety of destructive behaviours, such as jealousy, possessiveness, emotional manipulation, neediness, violence and so forth. When we don’t feel worthy of love, we unconsciously manifest this in our relationships through the way we choose to behave.

Remember the self-destructive person exhibits both conscious and unconscious behaviours that sabotage their own health, happiness and long-term fulfillment. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Like me, you probably can identify with a couple or even more symptoms and habits on this list. The question is: What are you doing to rid yourself of these behaviours?

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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