Self-destructive Behavior

Janelle Barowski, Michael Quist
  • Author
    Janelle Barowski

    Janelle is a tutor for Nursing and Health Administration. She has an Associate's degree in Nursing from Middlesex College. She also has a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Nursing Administration and Leadership from Western Governors University. She currently is a practicing pediatric and geriatric nurse.

  • Instructor
    Michael Quist

    Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Learn about the meaning or definition of self-destructive behavior. Discover examples, signs, thoughts and behaviors related to self-destructive tendencies. Updated: 11/03/2021

Table of Contents


Self-Destructive Definition

What is self-destructive behavior? The definition of self-destructive behavior is any behavior or lack of behavior that actively contributes to negative outcomes. Self-destructive behavior is caused when a person inflicts harm on themselves or puts themselves in a risky situation where harm may occur. There are many different forms of self-destructive behavior, as its definition is very broad. This type of action can be emotional or physical. It has long-term effects on the individual that can impact various areas of his or her life.

In some cases, a person may be unaware they are even performing a self-destructive activity. They may be succumbing to a strong urge or may not understand the consequences. In many cases, self-destructive behavior is a stress reaction or a maladaptive coping mechanism. At the moment, it brings relief and pleasure to the person. However, it is harmful in the long run.

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  • 0:04 Self-Destructive Behavior
  • 0:38 Signs
  • 3:29 Causes
  • 4:09 Effects & Impact
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Self-Destructive Behavior Signs and Effects

Individuals who partake in self-destructive behavior display signs and symptoms in their lives. Self-destructive behavior signs include:

  • depression
  • avoidance of responsibility
  • repeatedly avoiding social interaction with others, leading to isolation
  • emotional sensitivity or mood swings
  • numbness to events
  • addictive personality
  • lack of self-control
  • loneliness
  • clinging to others, particularly significant others
  • scars indicating possible self-harm
  • repeated, unexplained bruising, cuts, or burns
  • victim mentality
  • constant pessimism
  • anxiety
  • sabotaging relationships with others on purpose

Binge drinking is a form of self-destructive behavior.


Self-destructive behaviors can cause many long-term effects. The most obvious effect is the physical toll this type of conduct takes. A person may develop permanent scarring, as well as a host of diseases due to their risky behavior. Sexually transmitted diseases may be acquired through risky sexual behavior. HIV, hepatitis, liver failure, and kidney failure can be associated with long-term drug and alcohol abuse.

The mental health of a person can also be affected by their self-harming tendencies. Long-term drug abuse from self-destructive behavior can cause mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Constantly talking negatively about oneself and isolating oneself from others can also cause negative effects on mental health. Self-destructive behaviors can also destroy a person's social system, which can further isolate a person and perpetuate the cycle of self-destructive tendencies.

Loss of economic status or capital is another effect of self-destructive behavior. An individual may have a loss of control over their finances, coupled with an increase in compulsivity. This can cause an increase in spending and a loss in capital. Avoidance of responsibility may also cause a person to be fired from their job.

Self-Destructive Behavior Examples

Self-destructive tendencies are best understood through the use of examples. Self-destructive behavior can also include self-destructive thoughts.

The following is a list of self-destructive behaviors that an individual may partake in:

  • self-harm
  • lack of hygiene
  • drug or substance abuse
  • eating disorders
  • being consistently late for work
  • self-sabotage in work or relationships
  • binge eating or restrictive eating
  • uncontrolled compulsions, like excessive gambling or shopping
  • risky sexual behavior
  • talking negatively about oneself
  • Staying in an abusive or negative relationship
  • displace aggressive behavior towards other
  • isolating oneself from friends and family

Self-destructive behaviors can also include self-sabotaging behaviors. This includes purposely engaging in maladaptive behaviors, such as procrastination and being passive-aggressive towards others. Changing one's own beliefs and actions to better fit in with others is another sign of self-destructive tendencies. Any action where an individual purposely causes harm to themselves is self-destructive behavior.

Self-Destructive Tendencies and Causes

There are many causes of self-destructive tendencies. The reasons why someone develops self-harm tendencies are personal and vary on a case-by-case basis. However, there are broad reasons that are common amongst many people.

The following is a comprehensive list of possible causes of self-destructive tendencies:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cause of self destructive behavior?

There are many causes of self-destructive behavior. The causes depend upon the person, but some examples include:

  • Personality disorders
  • Childhood trauma and neglect
  • Unfulfilled needs like exhaustion and hunger
  • Issues with self-worth and low self-esteem
  • PTSD
  • Experiencing a violent crime
  • Prior alcohol or drug use

What are three types of destructive behavior?

There are many different types of destructive behavior. Excessive gambling, drug use and self injury are three types of destructive behavior.

What does it mean to be self-destructive?

The definition, or meaning, of self-destructive behavior is any behavior or lack of behavior that actively contributes to negative outcomes. This is caused when a person causes harm to themselves or puts themselves in a risky situation where harm may occur.

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