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What Is Self-Destructive Behavior & How is it Treated? | Causes, Signs, Diagnosis of Self-Destructive Behavior

What is Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behavior is a type of behavior that can range from isolating self from others to harming themselves. The risk is increased by traumatic experiences and other  mental health conditions.

It leads to mental and physical harm. Some of the self-destructive behavior include:

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A person with self-destructive behavior may show the following:

  • Not managing or completing different obligations
  • Isolating from others
  • Not taking care of health
  • Having sex without a barrier method
  • Getting involved in gambling

A mental health professional may help in identifying the cause of such behavior,(1) they can also be helpful in developing coping methods such as walking, breathing, or speaking with loved ones.

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A study found that depressed participants experienced more frequent negative thinking than those without depression.(2)

Cause of Self-Destructive Behavior

Self-destructive behavior is a way a person deals with difficult emotions. They injure themselves as it brings in temporary distraction from the overwhelming feeling.

There are certain mental health conditions such as depression and eating disorders that may make a person’s life feel out of control. A study done on individuals living with anorexia found 41% of them reported self-injurious in the last month.

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These individuals had longer histories of treatment than individuals who did not indulge in self-harm.

Those with borderline personality disorder also had high chances of engaging in self-harm.

People with depression have a sense of emptiness or numbness and may engage in self-harm.(3) It may be a form of punishing the self for perceived imperfections and mistakes.

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A study showed people with low levels of emotional intelligence were more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior.(4)

Other risk factors for self-destructive behavior include:

  • Experiencing trauma
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs
  • Having a mental health condition
  • Having a family history of self-harm
  • Having a friend who has indulged in self-harm

Signs of Self-Destructive Behavior

People indulging in self-harm may be embarrassed or ashamed of their behavior.

Being aware of the signs of symptoms of self-destructive behavior can be helpful for friends and family members in supporting their loved ones. The signs of self-destructive behavior include:

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Unexplained scarring
  • Fresh cuts and bruises on the skin
  • Expressing helplessness
  • Neglecting responsibilities, health, and social commitments

Those dealing with self-harm experience painful emotions and may withdraw from friends and family members. They may express feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and may exhibit shifts in mood or impulsive behavior.

Diagnosis of Self-Destructive Behavior

It is important for people experiencing self-destructive behavior to speak with a mental health professional for an evaluation. They may use the Clinician-Administered NSSI Disorder Index (CANDI) to diagnose the non-suicidal self-injury disorder.(5) It may be helpful in identifying the type of disorder and planning the treatment.

NSSI involves self-harming behavior that may cause injury of moderate intensity that may not be equivalent to suicide attempts. They may be a combination of suicidal ideation and self-harming behavior.

Treatment of Self-Destructive Behavior

The treatment for self-destructive behavior depends on the severity of the condition. Very severe cases may need hospitalization as a hospital setting may be needed to begin moving towards a healthier way of coping.

Mild to moderate cases can undergo psychotherapy, where a mental health professional examines the individual current symptoms and creates individual treatment plans.(6He may also identify coping strategies to deal with destructive behavior.

Psychotherapy may be helpful in identifying negative thoughts and developing strategies for them.

Identifying a self-destructive behavior is difficult especially if it has a gradual onset. Keeping a track of emotions and behavior and speaking with a healthcare professional may be helpful in managing self-destructive behavior.

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