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How to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior Patterns

How to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior Patterns

At one point or another, all of us have engaged in self-destructive behavior. It’s human nature, but some negative behavior patterns can be much harder to break out of than others. Even recognizing you’ve fallen into them can be a challenge, especially if you don’t want to admit it to yourself. And nothing stunts personal or professional growth quite like self-deception.

The good news is, you are capable of breaking self-destructive behavior patterns. All it takes is a willingness to accept what you’re doing wrong, understand why, and make a concerted effort to change your behavior. In this article, we’ll talk more about self-destructive behavior in general, why it can be hard to recognize in yourself, and how to begin to do so.

Let’s get to it!

What Is Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behavior refers to any action you make even though you know it will have a negative impact on yourself. One common example of this is smoking. A cigarette can feel like a cool glass of water when you’re parched, but we all know they come with plenty of nasty side effects.

However, that’s only one example, and self-destructive behavior can affect you in plenty of ways. Some of these include:

Cutting out this type of behavior entirely from your life can be difficult unless you’re a Buddhist monk. It also doesn’t have to mean completely avoiding that behavior entirely. For example, it can be okay if you maybe have one too many drinks, or eating poorly a couple of days in a row. These things become a problem however when you let this sort of behavior continue unchecked for long periods of time until it becomes the norm in your life.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In a lot of cases, recognizing this type of negative behavior can be challenging, particularly when it comes to spotting it in ourselves.

Why It’s Difficult to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior Patterns

It’s very easy to tell someone with a problem they should just “fix it”. However, dealing with self-destructive behavior is usually much harder than that.

In most cases, the main problem is that we don’t want to admit we’ve fallen into a self-destructive behavior pattern. You may have seen this yourself with addicts, many of whom believe they can kick their habits anytime they want. Instead, they’re prone to fall back into those patterns if they don’t admit the severity of their problems and take a systematic approach to fix it.

That’s a drastic example, of course. Self-destructive behavior doesn’t need to rise to the level of substance abuse to be highly damaging. Chronic procrastination, for example, can wreak havoc on your career, and even something as seemingly benign as bad sleeping habits can hugely affect your life.

In a lot of cases, recognizing self-destructive behavior is a lot easier when you’re looking at somebody else. The key is to turn that same critical eye upon our own behavior to find out if there’s a pattern we need to address.

To do that, it’s important you recognize that falling into self-destructive behavior patterns isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone, regardless of personality, genetics, or plenty of other factors. It’s also far from impossible to correct, even if it can seem extremely difficult from your perspective. As long as you address and tackle the problem, you’re going to be just fine.

How to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior (5 Common Patterns)

Tackling self-destructive behavior is all about awareness. As such, we’re going to discuss some of the most common patterns, which should give you an opportunity to examine if these apply to you. Let’s take a look.

1. You Constantly Make Excuses for Your Personal (And Professional) Shortcomings

Imagine there’s a project on your desk you need to finish by next week. It’s somewhat complex, but you’ve had months to do it. By now, the deadline is closing in, and you’ve hardly made any progress at all.

You’re probably not going to finish on time, and your client isn’t going to be happy about it. In this scenario, the blame lies solely with you. In an ideal situation, you’ll recognize where you went wrong and take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

However, some people instead look for ways to blame their failures on other people or external factors. Maybe you had a stressful couple of months, so you couldn’t focus on the project, or you feel someone else was distracting you. Even if this is true, you probably had time to try and seek an extension beforehand or deal with the problem proactively, instead of putting everything off until the last minute.

That’s just one example, though. The idea is that you may be refusing to accept blame when you have made a mistake. As such, it’s essential you acknowledge when you could have avoided such a situation, in order to address why it happened and avoid it in the future. Ultimately, that comes down to a simple question:

Did I do everything I could to fix this problem or am I just looking for excuses?

If you find yourself repeatedly making excuses for your shortcomings, you’ve fallen into one of the most common self-destructive patterns. This is not only likely to negatively affect your work, but also your relationship with clients and co-workers. To break the cycle, remember to address problems early and hold yourself accountable for any mistakes or delays that occur.

2. You Don’t Have the Energy to Engage Fully in Your Day-to-Day Life

In many cases, self-destructive behavior can sap our energy and motivation. For example, overindulging in food can wreak havoc on your body, as can staying up too late instead of getting a good night’s rest.

If you find yourself tired all the time, you need to take a close look at what your routine looks like. In most cases, you should be able to find the source of this behavior right away. The problem is, addressing the underlying cause of this behavior can be a problem.

If it’s something physical, such as lack of sleep or a terrible diet, you can address those problems directly, such as by improving your sleep schedule or improving your food habits. However, if you’re suffering from depression – which is another possibility – the road to recovery can take more work.

Depression in itself is not self-destructive behavior, but can be a catalyst for it. If you’re suffering with mental health issues, you’re more likely to find yourself in self-destructive patterns, as they can provide momentary relief. Breaking out of this behavior can require a lot of work and even professional help.

3. You Neglect Your Physical Health

One of most insidious types of self-destructive behavior you can engage in is neglecting your physical health. This behavior can take many forms, such as:

  • Eating too much or too little.
  • Not getting enough sleep.
  • A lack of physical exercise.
  • Overindulging in substances that impact your body or mind.

In any case, neglecting your physical health won’t only make you feel terrible, it can also affect your energy levels and motivation, as we discussed earlier. It’s perfectly possible to turn this around, but it often requires a considerable lifestyle change.

For example, getting back into shape after neglecting exercise for a while can be a grueling process. That’s why you see so many products and gurus preying on people looking for easy ways to improve their bodies. However, the truth is there are no shortcuts and taking care of your body is an ongoing process that requires care and motivation.

A little bit of indulgence is OK from time to time. However, if you’re abusing your body too frequently with one or more of the behaviors we mentioned before, then that’s a problem you need to address as soon as possible. Consider asking a doctor for help in how to improve your diet or sleep habits. Even exercise doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might fear, even for a total beginner.

4. You Sabotage Personal (And Professional) Relationships

Not all people are social butterflies. However, most of us need at least some positive relationships, both in our personal and professional lives.

The problem is, some people fall into the trap of not putting any effort into their relationships, or even actively sabotaging them. That, in turn, can lead to feeling isolated, which can have a huge negative effect on your emotional state and even your workplace productivity.

Aside from that, if you work alongside others, you need to at the very least maintain healthy professional relationships. That doesn’t mean becoming best friends with everyone in the office, but treating them with respect to avoid issues in the workplace.

Socializing doesn’t come as easy to everyone. However, it’s a skill you can practice and improve if you put a little effort into it. For starters, we recommend taking a look at your life and making a list of the people you care about. If you find that your relationship with several of them is strained, there may be a problem on your end that you need to address. In some cases, this can mean reaching out more often, being a better listener, and identifying aspects of your behavior that causes conflicts.

5. You Refuse to Accept Help from Others

Refusing to accept help from others is a pattern of self-destructive behavior that can have a significant impact on every aspect of your life and career. The thing is, it doesn’t matter how talented or productive you are. At some point, you will need external help. If you refuse to ask or accept it, you’ll just end up digging yourself into a ditch.

For example, imagine you run into a problem at work you don’t know how to solve. Even after performing some research, you still can’t crack it, and you have a deadline coming up. In this case, the logical thing to do is asking someone who is more experienced for support and assistance.

However, in some cases, you might be determined to go at it alone. That’s understandable up to a point, but not if it affects your overall work performance and causes you undue stress. If that’s a behavior you find yourself engaging in on a consistent basis, then you most likely have a problem in your hands.

It’s important you know how to research and tackle things on your own, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, asking co-workers for help can be a great way to improve your work relationships, which we touched on in the previous section. After all, asking people for help is proven to make them like us more and can help build personal relationships and improve the quality of your work in the process.


It’s a cliché, but the first step of dealing with a problem is recognizing and accepting it. With self-destructive behavior, it can be tempting to think you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. However, the longer you let these patterns continue, the harder it can be to break them, so you want to examine yourself before you fall in too deep.

When it comes to recognizing self-destructive behavior, there are five patterns we recommend you look out for:

  1. Constantly making excuses for your shortcomings.
  2. A constant lack of energy to engage fully in your day-to-day life.
  3. Neglecting your physical health.
  4. Sabotaging your relationships.
  5. Refusing to accept help from others.

Have you struggled with self-destructive behavior patterns in the past? Share your stories with us in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by Big and Serious / shutterstock.com

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