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What Is A Maladaptive Behavior, 8 Common Maladaptive Behavior, Causes, Treatment

What Is A Maladaptive Behaviors?

The inability to adjust to a situations or different situations is known as maladaptive behavior. It can be a habit picked up at an early age or can be a behavior that starts after a major life change, illness, or traumatic event.

Such behavior though adopted to cope in social and performance situations to help manage anxiety, in a long run would cause anxiety. It stops you from doing things that are adaptive.

Common Maladaptive Behaviors

There are certain ways a person starts behaving if having a maladaptive behavior. Below are listed a few types of behavior patterns that a person with maladaptive behavior would present.

Passive Communication

  • Passive communication is avoiding confrontation or choosing not to discuss things that are bothering you.
  • This can worsen social anxiety and your needs can get ignored.


If someone has social anxiety, he may avoid triggering situation in the following ways:

  • Turning down social invitations
  • Refusing to give a speech in public
  • Not asking questions in a class
  • Not taking classes that involve public speaking
  • Turning down promotions at work
  • Not making eye contact during conversation

Avoiding a threat or unpleasantness is a common behaviour, if temporary. When continually you avoid something, it’s maladaptive behavior.


  • Some people with social anxiety would get angry. There may be a feeling of frustration at others for forcing them to engage in social situations. The feeling can build up and express anger.
  • Such behavior can worsen social anxiety as you may lash out the anger in an unhealthy way making you feel guilty.
  • This is most commonly seen in children as temper tantrums.

Substance Abuse

Certain substances such as alcohol, prescribed drugs, non-prescribed drugs or any other substance use can be a type of avoidance behavior. These substances provide a temporary escape from reality but can lead to addiction, which can further cause a new set of problems.


Self-harm is a way, some people adopt to deal with stressful events. They can hurt themselves by:

  • Cutting, scratching or burning skin
  • Self-hitting or banging your head
  • Picking off scabs or wounds
  • Refusal to take needed medication
  • Pulling of eyelashes or eyebrows
  • Such behaviors can harm health.


  • Avoiding a social activity just because you prefer alone time or moving out of a party as you want to avoid bumping into a person you do not want to meet.
  • If avoidance becomes a go-to strategy, it means you are effectively withdrawing yourself from social interactions.

For example, a person indulges in video games to avoid clubs and meeting new people. This can give temporary relief from social anxiety but in the long run, does nothing to improve coping skills. This can raise anxiety and result in isolation.

Maladaptive Daydreaming

  • Engaging in extensive fantasy in place of human interaction or participation in real life is known as maladaptive daydreaming.
  • It lasts long and keeps you from facing reality.

Sexually Maladaptive Behavior

Sexually maladaptive behavior is an act of engaging in behavior that is not age-appropriate and has potentially dangerous consequences.

Sexually maladaptive behavior includes:

  • Sexual aggression
  • Unprotected sex
  • Putting self in unsafe situations
  • Doing things that you don’t really feel like doing

Causes of Maladaptive Behavior

There are many reasons that can lead to maladaptive behavior.

  1. Trauma: Sexual abuse in childhood is linked with self-harm, substance use, and unsafe sexual behavior.(1) Adult trauma can also lead to maladaptive behavior.
  2. Developmental Disorder: People with developmental delays can lead to sleep disorder and maladaptive behavior.(2)
  3. Anxiety: Fear and anxiety can lead to maladaptive behavior. Avoidance can provide temporary relief but can increase anxiety.
  4. Autism: Maladaptive behavior that includes disobedience, aggression, and tantrums are common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

Maladaptive Behavior Treatment

If you know your behavior is going toward being maladaptive it is important that you make efforts to change it soon.

Any kind of addiction or anxiety needs to be addressed with a medical professional who can help you come over.

The treatment for Maladaptive Behaviour may include:

  • Addiction counseling
  • Exposure therapy
  • Anger management
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Meditation
  • Stress-reducing techniques
  • Talk therapy

You can also help yourself by finding alternative behaviors and putting them in practice.

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 14, 2020

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