How Are You Self-Destructive? 4 Obvious and 4 Hidden Ways

Self-destructiveness takes many different forms.

Posted Jun 27, 2016

Many men and women don't consider themselves to be self-destructive people, yet most men and women engage in self-destructive behaviors to varying degrees. Some of the ways people get destructive are obvious while others are more hidden. I will review obvious self-destructive behaviors first – because these are behaviors we all accept are bad for us – and will then highlight some of the hidden ways men and women get self-destructive in everyday life.

Abusing substances

The range of substances men and women abuse is wide, including alcohol, nicotine, illicit street drugs, and physician-prescribed medications such as benzodiazepines and pain killers. In recent years, physicians have been put on notice to curb their provision of medications used to treat ADHD as these drugs, too, are widely abused, often as club drugs or even get-through-the-day drugs by young adults. Abusing substances such as these are a clear manifestation of self-destructive behavior, and the individual who abuses them tells himself that he must do it to change his mood.


A quick look to the number of diet trends provides immediate confirmation that obesity – and the tendency to overeat - is one of the most common manifestations of self-destructiveness among men and women. Like substances, food creates changes in the body that also change one's mood. Eating becomes a way to numb uncomfortable feelings, and overeating is often done in front of a TV or electronic device, which means that the individual tends to eat in a nonthinking, trance-like state. People who overeat often tell themselves that they will start their diet tomorrow or next week, allowing themselves a little while longer to indulge. Those who overeat are typically aware of the fact that they feel worse about themselves after eating too much, but the changes in the body that the food produces are often too powerful to resist.

Being unfaithful

One of the other most common forms of self-destructive behaviors is romantic infidelity. Perhaps a man cheats because he believes he won't get caught; perhaps a woman cheats without hour caring if her partner finds out or not. Regardless of the motivation for infidelity, being romantically unfaithful is self-destructive. Even among those who aren't caught, they develop an identity of someone who lies, while those who are caught often end up losing their original relationship.

Texting while driving

As a frequent television commentator on psychological issues, I was recently on a national news show which covered a case in which a mother was responsible for the deaths of three young children who died after she became distracted by sending text messages and crashed into an oncoming truck. Texting and driving is one of the most self-destructive behaviors a person can engage in. The man or woman who texts and drives tends to be impulsive and cannot delay gratification by waiting until they are stopped to text and communicate online with others.

What about the less obvious, hidden ways people get self-destructive?

Many of the ways people get self-destructive are not as obviously problematic as, say, abusing drugs or texting while driving. Take a look at the examples below and ask yourself if you are currently engaging in any of these self-destructive behaviors or if you have engaged in any of them in the past.

Quitting exercising

Unless you're one of those rare types who makes fitness a top priority, sustaining a regular workout routine can be challenging. I work with many clients who will regularly exercise for months and then slip into a low-motivation period where they stop working out for a while. Quitting exercising is self-destructive, meaning that it is bad for your physical and mental health to discontinue it. I find that people who go on and off an exercise routines usually go off it because they push themselves too hard during the exercising phases. In other words, it's better to keep up a moderate routine a few times per week than binge-exercise for a period and then stop it altogether.

Getting into arguments with people who have power or authority over you

If you find yourself in a period where you are fighting more with anyone – partner, friend, or random strangers – it is a sign that you are feeling more stressed and angry than usual, and you feel the overwhelming need to stand up for yourself. If you find yourself getting into arguments more frequently with people in positions of power over you – best example, a boss – you are getting self-destructive. Whether you like it or not, people who have authority over you can make your life a lot harder if you defy them or argue with them. Fighting with them is an utterly self-destructive endeavor.

Significant procrastination that impacts your work or personal life

There's a difference between garden-variety procrastination and the kind of significant procrastination that significantly impacts your life. Person A may complain about and put off submitting, say, an application for a loan, but Person B gets the paperwork and never turns it in at all. Person B presents significant procrastination that is self-destructive, impacting his or her finances in a major way. People who are severe procrastinators engage in avoidant coping, and too much avoidance ultimately becomes self-destructive.

Betraying the trust of someone in a close environment

One of the less obvious ways that men and women engage in self-destructive behavior relates to the boundaries that should be maintained in relationships, and maintaining confidences and keeping secrets, in particular. When someone in your life – whether in your immediate or extended family or social circle, or at work – shares a secret or personal information and expects you to keep it confidential, breaking that trust and sharing the information with others can be self-destructive if your actions come to light. In such cases, your betrayal often gets back to the original person, and the relationship you had with that person suffers. Breaking trust in relationships – whether work or personal – is self-destructive because the betrayal usually ends up causing you stress and harming your preexisting relationships.

The takeaway

When you see someone smoking or engaging in another obviously self-destructive behavior, don't judge them. Have empathy for them because they cannot cope better than they are at that specific moment in time. At the same time, ask yourself which ways you can be self-destructive without it being obvious to the naked eye. In my work with clients, I've found that everyone gets self-destructive to varying degrees. Hopefully, becoming more aware of your own self-destructiveness will help you make better decisions in the future.

Feel free to explore my book on dysfunctional romantic relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve, or follow me on Twitter.