According to experts, most self-harming attempts start between the ages of 12 to 15. In fact, 2,500 young Canadian patients were hospitalized for self-harm from 2013 to 2014. Now, with the pandemic, psychological distress has become an even bigger problem. 

Many are struggling with depression and anxiety mainly because of the apprehension of possible infection or overload of negative media reports, stated the National Institutes of Health. The truth is, most people have done something self-destructive at a certain point in life. 

It could be intentional and mentally and physically harming. Or it could be unintentional, triggered by the urge to calm the severe anxiety or depression. But, to manage self-destructive behavior, you need to know exactly what you are dealing with. 

You must recognize the problem and when to seek help. If you want to learn the nuts and bolts of self-destructive behavior, you’ve come to the right place. This detailed guideline will show you everything you’ve been missing.


Self-Destructive Behavior: What Does It Mean?

Self-destructive behavior refers to various self-harming acts, behaviors and thoughts, reckless actions, suicidal and non-suicidal self-hurt. These include:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Compulsive buying, gaming, or gambling
  • Overeating
  • Risky and impulsive sexual acts
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal behavior, acts, or thoughts 

Other types of self-destructive behavior also exist. These are what we call subtle, but precise forms of self-sabotage. People might not realize what they are doing to their bodies. They are subconsciously making these decisions, which later impact their lives. For example:

  • Changing themselves completely to please someone else
  • Focusing on self-deprecation (such as undervaluing, belittling, or insulting oneself)
  • Developing clingy behavior in someone who doesn’t show interest
  • Hiding behind aggressive and alienating behavior to protect oneself
  • Relying on maladaptive behavior that interferes with daily life

In the last couple of decades, the frequency of self-destructive behaviors has increased. A Gratz study found that 35% of 150 students in their 20s had self-harmed at least once in their life. Another Swedish research reported more mind-blowing results. Around 65% of high school students who took part in the research claimed they intentionally harmed themselves. 

But, the youth is not the only age group experiencing self-destructive behavior. Veterans have also used self-harming to manage the post-combat trauma, sudden death of a friend or a loved one, and a range of different traumatic events.


What Makes People Self-Harm?

Self-destructive behavior often comes from bad experiences that might have or are currently happening to someone. At other times, that person may not have a particular reason. Whatever is triggering this behavior can change with time. 

Some of the most typical reasons people decide to self-harm include:

  • The need to punish themselves for something they’ve done
  • Coping or expressing mental distress
  • Getting rid of excruciating tension
  • Looking to feel in control
  • Dealing with invasive or disturbing thoughts
  • A cry for help

Studies indicate that impulsivity and risk-taking are likely to emerge due to intense emotions, although the behavior will vary from person to person. Countless theoretical conceptualizations of impulsive, self-destructive, and risky behavior have been studied. Most are fundamentally based on the principle or belief of approach and avoidance. 

self destructive behavior

The longer their problems and unresolved mental distress pile up, the bigger the risk for self-harm. For example, this behavior could be the result of poor self-esteem, bullying, pressure to succeed, abuse, bereavement, etc. 

However, there is a common misconception that everyone who self-harms wants to end their life. According to the NHS, that’s not always the case. Even though there is a definite link between self-harming and suicide, not all people who turn to self-destructive behavior want to take their own life. 

Self-destructive behavior is rather seen as a coping mechanism. It’s crucial to seek help immediately to control and manage the risk of damage and health complications.


5 Practical Ways to Put an End to Self-Destructive Behaviors

Most of us have trouble keeping up with our daily tasks, let alone have time to take care of ourselves. But, this is the main part of the problem. Daily stress, expectations, and events can hold anyone down. People feel like they have to do their best to avoid disappointing their loved ones and friends. 

In the process, they become more anxious and afraid of failure, becoming less aware of their actual feelings, goals, and needs. This vulnerability leads to unhealthy self-sabotage behaviors. Experts claim you must know when to slow down. 

That can be achieved if they H.A.L.T. self-destructive behavior. H.A.L.T. is a technique capable of helping people manage their self-sabotage and learn to be in control. It captures multiple aspects of a person’s life. That includes hunger/hurt, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. These all play a key feature in the H.A.L.T. acronym. Here is a quick look at the most practical ways to stop self-destructive behavior.


1. Hunger/Hurt

We are living in the age of freneticism. Everyone is constantly busy and has something they need to do right now. 

Coping with a busy schedule can be a serious problem. Based on a 2017 survey, about 60% of employees stated they were highly stressed. The constant workload had a major impact on their productivity, making them incredibly anxious. 

At times like these, it is easy to neglect your physical need for food and emotional hunger for acknowledgment, love, and respect. Whenever something happens, we tend to push it away as if it’s not a big deal. But, this is just postponing the inevitable. 

To manage hunger or hurt, you need to slow down and attend to your basic needs. Identify where that hurt is coming from and take a breather. When you are calm enough, you can work with your hurt and come to terms with it. Start by taking care of your body. Eat thoughtfully and provide your system with the nutrients it deserves.


2. Anger

Anger could be subtle. But it can also cause an outburst. Whatever the reason may be, if you are extremely angry, it means something is not quite right or your needs haven’t been met. Instead of pushing it down and bottling it up, try to find the source. Understand where the unrest is coming from and deal with it in a peaceful and calm manner. If you can’t do it by yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help.


3. Loneliness

Based on recent data, people between the ages of 16 to 24 are most likely to feel lonely. 10% of those evaluated felt lonely always or often. Whereas those 65 years or older, reported fewer odds of loneliness, with 3% reporting being lonely. 

Since most people link loneliness with old age, these reports seem surprising. But, there is a good reason for it. Surveys done in multiple rich countries recorded the exact same results. Such as those done in the United States, Japan, and New Zealand. It seems that young adults report being lonelier than older adults.  It could be the result of their way of life or relationships that have deteriorated over the years. 

When someone is feeling lonely, they can’t help but feel empty and sad. This disconnect makes it difficult to cope with the problems in life. To solve the problem, you should find the courage to reach out and do new things. It is crucial that you make the effort and don’t give up on yourself. With just a little bit of effort, you can go a long way.


4. Tiredness

Fatigue is a pressing matter. Work, school, friends, events, can all put a lot of pressure on your sleeping routine. But, just because you haven’t been able to get some sleep, it doesn’t mean you constantly have to feel exhausted. 

To get your health back on the right track, you need to work on your exhaustion. Start by walking to promote sleep and well-being. Or do any physical activity that will boost circulation and help you spend the excess energy. That’s where exercise can really come in handy.


5. Contact a Specialist

At times, self-harming behavior is associated with a mental health disorder, like borderline personality disorder or depression. Asking for help should be your top priority. Treatment will help you target specific problems related to your emotional unrest. 

Because this behavior can affect a significant portion of your life, it’s important that you contact a mental health professional and work on your recovery. The treatment you get will be tailored to your needs, symptoms, and severity of your health state. 

They can suggest behavioral or talk therapy. If other conditions, like drug or alcohol abuse, are part of the issue, then you would need to take addiction counseling. When it comes to medication, the doctor can suggest medicine to manage the problem that’s accompanied by severe anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, suicide attempts, etc.


Can You Fully Recover From Treatment?

Self-Destructive Behavior

Self-sabotage behavior is a risky problem and could increase the risk of premature death and poor mental health. But, it is possible to fully recover from this health issue. The time it will take will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms, frequency of illness, drug abuse, and other conditions, like diabetes.  

There is a different outlook for every individual. Therefore, it is difficult to point out exactly the type of treatment or medication the patient will receive. But, all of the available methods focus on a single goal. To help patients recover from self-destructive behavior. 

By relying on engaging, practical, and studied methods, therapy can help manage the triggers. As well as teach the patient how to perfect their coping skills, behaviors, and lead a healthier life. These are all vital factors in managing self-sabotaging behavior.



Self-sabotage is a dangerous behavior that can undermine your ability to succeed, regardless of your values, hopes, and dreams. The roots, however, lie deep, often in your self-talk, self-esteem, and current negative emotions. The truth is, anyone can beat their self-destructive behavior by paying close attention to their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and beliefs. The goal is to challenge them when they get between you and whatever you want to achieve. Once you locate the root of the problem, you can ask for help and work on developing self-supporting actions that will keep you on the right path. Now that you know the ways of doing it, you can get to the bottom of your mental unrest.