How to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior Patterns

Posted on December 1, 2018 by 37 Comments

How to Recognize Self-Destructive Behavior Patterns
Blog / Business / 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 /


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  1. ET, bravo for adding a post with this type of content!
    Over the years I have definitely struggled multiple times with self destructive behaviors, more than once in the name of “getting the job done!”
    Currently, I am working on improved balance between work and life!
    John, thanks for the reminder to take stock and take care of ourselves!

    • No problem, Deborah – happy to be of service. 🙂

  2. This seems like kind of a weird article for elegant themes. Not really the place I would go for advice like this…

    • Which is why it’s so perfect here. I, for example, never try to find out what I’m doing wrong I’d rather look for easy ways to get the job done quicker such as new plug-ins and such.

      Landing on this article – fully expecting it to be perhaps about self-destructive computer viruses and such – was a true wake up call giving me the opportunity to nip the problem in the bud.

      This is just one more great example of the human side of Elegant Themes. Much appreciated.

      • I totally agree!

    • @MitchellDeYoung, I agree; this is a strange article for ET to post. However, it is often by finding unexpected articles in “normal” places that sometimes you can reach someone who might otherwise never learn something important.

      For that reason, I don’t object to them posting such things – I am not REQUIRED to read it. I would only object if they stopped posting ET (Divi)-related posts, but they haven’t done that.

      So for me, meh, but I will never object to anything constructive that doesn’t get in the way of the mission (in this case learning more about Divi).

  3. John,
    Great post. I was immediately drawn in when it popped up on my phone because this space is often dedicated to divi topics which makes sense but this is a nice sidebar that I’ve found virtually everyone deals with personally if not in themselves then in loved ones. And I am one of them! I agree with a lot of what you shared. As a recovery coach and support group leader for men with self-destructive addictions, I understand much about this topic especially in the area of process addictions (work, gaming, sex, porn, masturbation). the men in my groups are trying to get free from most of these, but especially the sexual addictions. I have found both personally and from my experience of others in support groups that most people generally have functional addictions to something to cope with pain and disappointment or grief in life. We all face these ins all ways and large ways. We don’t need to be clinically diagnosed to seek help. but it takes a lot of bravery and often getting over the denial of the problem altogether or addressing lies we tell ourselves like “I can handle this” or “I don’t need help” keep people from getting healing. Not to mention keep people from thriving in life after getting freedom (a very distinct process after getting freedom from the addiction(s)). Where I think the emphasis is misplaced in your article is on self-solutions. Yes there is stuff we have to own in order to begin a journey towards freedom from self-destructive behaviors (eg getting past denial, being brave enough to get help, etc) but we can’t be free without getting help from others. The danger is we just change outside behaviors without doing the heart work. Likely we end up trading one vice for another! (Eg I’ve done this in trading porn for work addiction etc) I do see you mention getting help and that’s great but the emphasis at the start of your post does not mention this as a critical part of the solution to stop self-destructive behaviors. I don’t have it all figured out and there are many smarter and more qualified people out there than I but as a recovering workaholic I have tried plenty of strategies on my own for decades. Nothing essentially changed except outside behaviors until I got into a confidential support group of 6 men who shared common struggles.

    • John, thanks for your detailed comment! This is a great sidebar for the article, because you touch on the need for support too.

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the article. 🙂

    • I support @John’s point of view that it is not possible to help ourselves (1 person on their own) in finding a lasting solution. I’ve suffered from self-rejection, which led to neglect and addiction to porn. From my own experience, books helped in understanding and studying the mental behaviour. But it did not help in getting to the root of the problem and dealing with the issue which we all have to deal with in life: hurt. It’s only in opening up to some trusted friends and receiving advice that I understood my patterns of behaviour were a continuation of that of my parents, because they, too, were hurting.

  4. since when do you write this kind of articles on this website.
    Not that the article isn’t good – because it is. But I was curious – do you plan to add more of these – not that it would be bad, as it wouldn’t.

    • This kind of content is new for us. We’ve decided to expand our content offerings to cover topics that compliment our WordPress and Divi content. We’ve added some new categories such as Business, Marketing, Design, and more. In the Business category we’re covering topics that address personal/professional development, career building, management, business growth, and more.

      • Like I said in a previous reply, and articles such as this is one more example of how Divi cares about its members and audience.

        They were even opportunities for a plug such as hiring Divi web designers under the topic asking for help. But you didn’t go there. I respect that.

      • @NathanBWeller: Bravo for this. Bravo to the ET team for recognizing that a huge percentage of your customers/followers are people who build websites for clients, and even if we are end-users, we will have businesses, careers, professional concerns, and needs beyond the websites and Divi/WP concerns.

        Two notes of caution I know you don’t need: (1) Please don’t diminish the quantity of main-focus content (Divi/ET/WP) in your blog; and (2) Be sure any “bonus topic” content you include is verified and proven. It would be plus-ungood (phrase from “1984”) to publish an article steering people in the wrong direction.

        • Noted! And previously considered. Thanks for the comment.

  5. A change of air in ET blogs and very welcome. Not the first I believe.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Rodrigo. I hope you’re enjoying the change in direction. 🙂

  6. I love this article!! Maybe we’ll read stuff like this in the future on the ET blog 😉

    • 😀 Thanks, Davide!

  7. Good post! Thanks

    • Thanks, Taylor!

  8. kind of strange but poignant. When i’m cranking my refrigerator goes empty, papergoods become a scarcity and the cats’s litter-box….well, tmi. love it!

    • 😀 Thanks for the kind words, Kathy!

  9. Always enjoy your posts. But great to see something outside the square. This is valuable and no doubt relevant to many solo workers – if at least to keep tabs on ourselves. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Carolyn. 🙂

  10. Love the article. TYSM

    • No problem, Petra!

  11. Great article – thank you 🙂

    Web designers and developers are human beings too so it’s great to see this content coming out on this blog – helping me to reflect on my behaviour patterns in a way I might not have otherwise. And I would not have reached out to other resources on the web of my own volition, so a good surprise to have it land here.

    Looking forward to more, sprinkled in amongst the usual Divi goodness.

    • Great response, Neal. I hope you enjoy the other articles we’ve published in the same vein!

  12. Of all of the blogs on the net, this is the blog I read the most, by far. The content is always relevant and interesting. I think this type of post fits in very well here – we all need a pep talk every once in a while. Excellent post – thank you for posting it!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Richard. I’m glad you found the post enjoyable. 🙂

  13. Your post brings up some good points. You might be interested in reading more about automatic negative thoughts and their relation to burnout, which is a particular challenge for entrepreneurs who have to fill many roles alone. I have some related resources on my website (all freely accessible) – which uses Divi of course 🙂

    • *Extra not Divi. Oops

    • Thanks, Roberta – Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are definitely a topic to look into, so it’s great you brought that up!

  14. Fantastic post. You have recognised that well being is a life skill and have moved up a notch in my respect. We’ve been doing similar posts for agreeing months and they are proving very popular. We are, after all, human. Kudos ET.

    • Thanks, Andrew. Of course, without well-being, our work means very little. Glad you’re enjoying the posts. 🙂

  15. This was definitely an unexpected article. I would love to know what this has to do with my website – and I’m not being snide here. I’ll bet there’s tie-in and I’d love to get other people’s take on it.

    For example, how might self-destructive behavior (or coming out of it)impact my website or blog and how might my use of Divi be relevant to that?

    Ha! I actually have an example of that today, because I shared content I might have been more anxious about sharing in the past. I decided to take a chance and share a video of a work-session, a musical synopsis of a theater piece I’m working on.

    Being able to use the Visual Builder made it easier for me to feel more confident about the content I was sharing, because I could see it the way the reader might – and I could see how the video content and the written content interacted on the page. Being able to *see* it better made me more comfortable sharing. It also made it easier for me to write in a more casual style, and get more personal – because the interface was more like ‘real life.’

    So the Visual Builder helped me feel more connected to what I was sharing, and that made it easier to share. So I shared more. And that connects me more to the world outside my mind.

    Now that I’ve written this I’m realizing my blog is an important part of my mental health (and probably a reflection of it, too!), and Divi is an important part of giving my blog the same kind of media interconnection that I have in my own life as a composer/performer.

    And that seems pretty self-constructive!

    So thanks for this post. I’d love to hear what other people have to say about the relationship between their websites, blog … and self-destructive … or self-constructive behavior.

    • Thanks for your comment, Deborah. We’re writing a lot of these kinds of posts at the minute, not because they directly impact your use of Divi, but they could indirectly affect your work.

      For example, a self-destructive behavior pattern could see you stubbornly adding elements to your site that make it worse, or you may post an article that clashes with your brand’s view, or all manner of other scenarios. These are just very simple examples.

      Overall though, we recognize that there are people behind the computers who need to be well. Hopefully these posts contribute to a better-off community. 🙂

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