This could potentially have been a blog post about self harming but I know that many of us tend to have behaviours that don't strictly fall into this category but the behaviour is potentially harmful nonetheless.  With this in mind I have widened the topic to include all forms of self destructive behaviour.  This is because we are all vulnerable and likely, at one time or another, to have taken actions that are self destructive or self sabotaging and slow down the process of achieving of an end goal.  

Below is a list of some of the types of behaviour that may be seen as self destructive.  It's important to say at this point that this post isn't about making a judgement of these types of behaviour, it's just to highlight these type of behaviours and look at some of the possible causes and actions that can be taken to minimise them.  

Below I have listed some of the types of behaviour that may be viewed as self destructive.

Types of self destructive behaviour:
  • Binge drinking
  • Drug use and misuse
  • Promiscuous behaviour 
  • Overspending
  • Self harming behaviour
  • Gambling
  • Damaging property or getting in to fights with others
  • Disordered eating patterns such as binging and purging, restricting food intake and binge eating
As stated earlier, it's important to try to view these types of behaviour without judgement as there is often much more behind why a person may behave in this sort of way.  When we start to label behaviours as either good or bad we risk reinforcing the negative emotions, such as guilt, shame and low self esteem, that may be leading to or perpetuating these behaviours.  We also potentially limit communication and this can be an important tool for developing self awareness and reducing any harm caused by these actions.

Some of the reasons why someone may seek out more self destructive actions are as follows.  This list is not in any way exhaustive so if you are concerned about someone it's important to keep an open mind and listen to the reasons that person gives you for their actions.  

Reasons for this behaviour
  • Stress - high stress levels can be caused by one or two big stresses or a series of smaller stressful events.  We all have different thresholds for how much stress we can tolerate and a unique set of life experiences that will colour the way a stressful event is processed. 
  • Low self esteem - feeling low in self confidence and self worth can make people more vulnerable to factors such as peer pressure and may prevent the person from asking for help when they are struggling. They may feel that the issues are of their own making and feel a pressure to cope better than they are able to.
  • Abuse - abuse can come in many different forms.  Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and financial.  Sometimes the signs are more apparent than others, other times they are hidden and less obvious. If you or a loved one are experiencing any kind of abuse it is important to reach out for help.  Some of the services offering support can be found in the useful links section.  Alternatively your local CAB, police or family doctor should be able to provide assistance.
  • Mental ill health - mental health is unfortunately still shrouded by stigma and this can make it hard for people to open up about the difficulties they are experiencing and access the help they need.  This situation is gradually changing for the better and campaigns from charities such as Time to Change are helping to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with mental illness.
  • Lack of autonomy - autonomy relates to the ability to self govern and, in this context, relates to our perceived sense of control over a situation.  A lack of control can lead to the person feeling trapped and this can happen in many areas of life.  It may relate to a close relationship, a work situation or job, a family relationship, housing issues, financial worries or a health issue.
  • Frustration - this can be caused by any number of the issues already identified and can lead to the person possibly feeling angry or powerless and needing to vent those feelings the form of some action.
  • Boredom - this may appear on the surface as a fairly trivial or small trigger, but boredom can be a creeping sensation that builds over time and we should not underestimate the power it holds.  When we feel unable to escape a situation that feels boring and unstimulating we may feel the need to take action to relieve this and this is not necessarily helpful in the long run.  Boredom can also lead to thrill seeking and risky behaviour as the person can become desperate for some excitement or change from the current status quo.
  • Fear of change - this ties in with several of the others mentioned earlier on the list.  Change can affect different people in different ways.  Some may find change exhilarating, while others may feel scared and out of control.  Sometimes the change is unwelcome and other times it is being instigated by the person themselves.  Sometimes the fear comes from the unknown and, even if the change will ultimately improve the persons life the change can still be scary.
Self Help Tips
Below is a list of some strategies and tips that can be employed to help reduce the impact or frequency of any patterns of self destructive behaviour.  
  • Mindfulness - mindfulness is a practice that involves increasing self awareness and becoming more present in the current moment rather than getting pulled into memories from the past or trying to predict the outcome of future activities.  The idea is to take a step back from events and learn to view the thoughts and feelings without judgement and with compassion.  It has become a popular tool for overcoming stress and anxiety as well as proving helpful for the management of other mental health issues.  As a practice it can assist the person in recognising the kind of situations that may trigger self destructive behaviours and with this increased insight they can take positive actions to improve the situation using more constructive solutions.  You can find free mindfulness exercises through the Free Mindfulness Project
  • Healthy outlets - finding an outlet for negative feelings can be extremely helpful for managing and expressing difficult emotions.  Some popular activities include sport, creative hobbies such as art, crafts and music.
  • Write it down - you can either keep a regular diary/journal of events and feelings or writing notes to yourself in a notepad or electronic device when challenging situations arise.  This can help to clarify feelings and identify possible triggers and alternative solutions to a situation.  Also the act of writing about your feelings will help to calm you, provide you with a safe means of venting difficult emotions and hopefully reduce the intensity of those feelings.
  • Self compassion - learning to be kind to yourself and accepting yourself as fallible and human will help to reduce the feelings of guilt and shame than can accompany an episode of self destructive behaviour.  Often we are kinder to others than we are to ourselves, so taking a minute to think about how we would speak to a loved one if they were in a similar situation can act as a guide the kind of language we use to talk to ourselves.
  • Talk to someone - offloading difficult feelings can help to reduce the negative impact that they have on our behaviour.  This can also increase self awareness and assist in coming up with possible solutions.  The person could be a friend or family member or could be a professional, such as a counsellor or a formal support group.  To find an accredited counsellor in your area visit the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists It's Good to Talk website.
  • Taking positive action and making changes - sometimes these feelings and behaviours are a clue that we need to make changes to our lives.  Sitting down and working out which parts of the issue are within your control and how these issues could be resolved can help to work out the best way forward. 
  • Relaxation exercises - taking time out to do some relaxation exercises can help to provide some breathing space between you and a difficult emotion and can help to reduce the chances of behaving impulsively.  You can purchase CDs or MP3 of guided relaxation exercises or join a meditation class.  Many yoga classes also include an element of relaxation so this may also be an option.
  • Risk minimising - if you know that you are feeling vulnerable to self destructive behaviours and you don't feel able to stop these actions you may still be able to take steps to reduce the possible harmful effects of these behaviours.  Sometimes having the company of a supportive friend can help you to make better choices.  Also look at ways you can reduce possible temptations.  For instance, if you have issues with overspending then you can limit the amount of cash you carry or remove credit/debit cards from your wallet.  If you do slip up then recognising this and getting help can help to limit the knock-on effects.  Try to avoid beating yourself up for your mistakes as this will not help.  Be kind to yourself and accept that you are human and make mistakes from time to time.  Learning new coping skills and behaviours takes time so be patient with yourself.

For more information on support available to help with managing self destructive behaviours check out the Useful Links section this site and scroll down to the part labelled "Asking for Help".  Also check out the self help worksheets section for free printable diary sheets, goal setting sheets and other helpful worksheets.