4 Tools to Break Free from Self-Destructive Behavior

By Carina Bang

angry woman pointing to mans phone

To free yourself from self-destructive behavior may feel like a big and heavy task. In many ways, life can be stressful. As a result, you may have resorted to habits and behavior that does more harm than good – and you may feel stuck.

I want you to know that you can get free of self-destructive behavior. In this article, I will go through 4 tools you can use to do so. The good news is, you’re the one in charge. But, taking the right steps may require some reflection. So, be honest with yourself so that you can help yourself in the best way possible. And, if you have a good friend to help you, use their support on your journey.

What You Need to Know

Tool 1: Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior

What determines self-destructive behavior? Do you have to be practicing physical self-harm, abusing different forms of substances, or can self-destructive behavior manifest itself in other ways?

It’s not uncommon to fall into the trap of maintaining self-destructive behavior. Many times, a person doesn’t even realize that their behavior is only setting them back. Some self-destructive behavior is obvious, such as self-harm, while other forms of self-destructivity isn’t as clear, such as having a pattern of blaming others for everything.

It’s vital that you recognize self-destructive behavior in order to free yourself from it. Look for warning signs that could indicate that you aren’t treating yourself well. You may for example find it in your personality traits, qualities and habits. Self-reflection can hurt, but you need to bring this behavior to the surface, and deal with it to move on.

What to look for

It’s likely that if you do have self-destructive behavior, it will display as a pattern. Start there. For example, you may realize that you tend to react to negative events in a specific way. Some realize that they react to negative events by eating too much, oversleeping or relying on pills. These are useless habits.

Your assignment: ponder over how you deal with challenges in life. Note down your reactions, perhaps by thinking about specific past events. After noting these down, see if you recognize a pattern.

Use your table below to see if you have patterns of reacting similarly to different negative events that put stress on you or give you negative feelings. Perhaps you notice that stress usually leads to procrastination, and anxiety to overeating. Each individual reacts in different ways.

Tool 2: Recognize Negative Patterns

Dig deeper into yourself with questioning statements. You’ll benefit from reflecting over your harmful patterns. Below are some thought-provoking statements designed to help you self-reflect; how you identify to each of them may reflect deeper truths about yourself.

Do you recognize these things in yourself?

  1. I find it difficult to say no and to set boundaries in my relationship with my friends, family or at work.
  2. I tend to want to control everything, knowing that my way is probably the best way. Sometimes I even assume control of things that aren’t my responsibility.
  3. I find it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings to my partner, friends, family and others.
  4. I always find myself in the same type of hurtful relationships.

If you recognize the statements above in yourself, it’s likely that your self-destructive behavior is so ingrained into your daily life that you don’t notice it. You probably rarely put yourself first, and in a sense, unknowingly, allow others to enable your self-destructive behavior.

Tool 3: Remember Your Rights

One main thing you need to remember is that you are important and that you have rights. You don’t need to always put yourself last. In fact, remembering to treat yourself well is crucial to maintaining physical and mental well-being in the long run. Others will also benefit from your mental well-being. When you’re doing well, you’ll treat the ones around you in a more loving and caring way.

One way you can break free from self-destructive behavior and negative patterns is remembering your rights every day.

Your assignment: 

Choose 1-2 of the following rights and remind yourself of them every day. Act according to these rights, treat yourself and others the way your rights allow you to. Do this for one week, then examine how it has made you feel.

I have the right to…

  • ask for what I want
  • say no/say yes
  • express my feelings
  • live according to my own values
  • my own private time and space
  • be in an environment that’s not toxic
  • be happy
  • think about ME, without feeling selfish

Tool 4: Recognize Toxic Relationships

Self-destructive behavior can hide in toxic relationships. I want to be clear – if you find yourself in a toxic relationship, the best thing for you may be to leave. Because it can be difficult to recognize a toxic relationship, there are two exercises you can do to determine the true nature of the relationship.

Exercise 1: A Pros and Cons List

Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into four sections by drawing a line down the middle vertically and horizontally. Then, on one side of the paper, write the pros of staying in the relationship in one section, and the cons in the other section. On the other side of the paper, write down the pros of leaving the relationship in one section and the cons of leaving in the other section.

This helps you explore how you truly feel about the relationship. Try to think about the pros and cons both in the short and long run. Will your list look the same one or two years from now?

Exercise 2: The Blank Paper Exercise 

All you need is a blank piece of paper and a pen. On one side, write down all the positive things and good qualities that your partner has. When finished with the positive side, you write down all the negative things with your partner and the relationship that you can come up with on the other side. Also write down how each thing has affected you.

The point of this is to understand that while there are positive sides to the relationship, there are also negative sides. And, you can’t have the positives without the negatives. While some days you may only see the positive sides, know that the negative sides are always there and will always be there if the person doesn´t do major changes. Staying in a relationship means that you’ll always have both sides – is it worth it?

In Conclusion

Breaking free from self-destructive behavior may be difficult, but not impossible. First, learn to identify it, recognize the patterns in yourself and be honest about them. Self-destructive behavior may present itself where you least expect it, so be diligent in your self-examination.

Use the tables and exercises in this article to explore your own emotions and reactions. Remember to always care for yourself first, otherwise you cannot care for others.

If you need help to free yourself from a toxic relationship where your partner is abusing alcohol or drugs, know that there are resources out there that can help you. “Hope in a World of Addiction” is a practical guide for friends and family of substance abusers. It is a manual for those who want to live up to their potential, reach their goals and be free from the negative effects of a toxic relationship.

Carina Bang is originally a behavioural scientist and certified CRAFT therapist with over 10 years of experience with family members and relatives of people with dependency problems, such as drugs or drinking. She has extensive experience in motivating people with substance abuse problems to change and support families in coping with the situation.

Carina has also written the self-help book Hope in Addiction because she is convinced that it is time to put family members and their health in focus. Everybody in the family will benefit from this.