If you indulge in self-destructive habits, you may experience a sense of being caught in a painful and dangerous loop. And, despite being aware of the harm the behaviors are causing you, you still want to partake in them. Your actions give you a momentary sense of relaxation, distraction, or numbing from whatever upset you. Unfortunately, you may have learned that this feeling of relief is quickly followed by more guilt and/or shame, and then as the intensity of your agonizing feelings increases, you begin engaging in your self-destructive activity once again – it’s a vicious loop! However, there are mindful ways to break self-destructive habits, so read on for tips on how to exit this destructive cycle and regain control over your life.
Why Do We Sabotage Ourselves?
The paradox of self-destructive habits is that we engage in them to reduce stress and improve our mood. But they typically have the opposite effect. After overindulging in food or alcohol, you won’t just feel awful physically. You’ll likely feel bad about yourself for not setting and honoring boundaries. Your days will get more challenging, yet you’ll probably continue acting this way.
At the same time, shame is one of the biggest culprits in our self-destructive habits. Many people are caught in a vicious cycle of self-destructive behavior and shame: they act destructively, feel terrible about it, and then act destructively again.
Shame can be an uncomfortable and exhausting emotion. You might feel the temptation to harm or punish yourself when you’re ashamed. Or, to avoid or numb the agony, you might indulge in self-destructive actions like abusing drugs. So the cycle continues…
What Are Self-Destructive Habits?
To learn how to break self-destructive habits, you must first know how to spot them. Frequently, these habits include:
- Self-mutilation or picking fights
- Substance abuse and drinking
- Smoking cigarettes or vaping
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Unsafe sexual practices
- Excessive use of porn, internet, gaming etc.
- Gambling or shopping/overspending compulsively
At the same time, there are more subtle forms of self-harm which cause an equally disruptive feedback loop in our brains and negatively affect our lives. These can include:
- Chronic avoidance
- Negative self-talk
- Relationships with toxic people
- Sabotaging your career, relationships, etc.
However, if you pay attention to red flags, you can begin to break the self-destructive cycles.
Mindful Ways to Break Self-Destructive Habits
Now that we know what self-destructive habits are and why we might have them, it’s time to deal with them once and for all. Here are some mindful ways to break the cycle:
Define The Triggers for Your Bad Behaviors
Whenever we employ a coping skill (healthy or not), it is accompanied by a trigger. Self-destructive urges just don’t strike without any explanation or reason – there is a root cause, and it typically arises from an unpleasant feeling. Knowing your triggers will help you prevent them and change how you respond to certain situations.
Retracing your steps is a wise way to find the psychological catalysts that feeds your self-destructive inclinations. Consider the last time you had a strong desire to harm yourself. Did something happen just before that? Were you thinking negative thoughts? Although it may be difficult, examine these circumstances, and you can identify patterns and uncover potential reasons behind your harmful attitudes and actions. For instance, if you use substance abuse as a coping mechanism for anxiety, it will be much easier to deal with it once you understand the connection between them. You can treat these two problems much easier when you realize one triggers the other and vice versa.
Break Free from The Shame Loop
Shame is an unpleasant emotion that you feel about yourself. Self-destructive habits are frequently attempts to deal with shame. However, continuing those actions breeds more self-destructive behavior and feeds shame. Therefore, it can be challenging to stop this cycle.
Fortunately, you can start by substituting little, unhealthy actions with good ones that promote pride, the opposite of shame. For instance, tell the truth rather than a white lie. Accept responsibility for your small blunders and adopt a healthy lifestyle that fosters physical and emotional well-being. You can eliminate the shame by working on your self-image – because once you gain motivation and progress, you won’t want to do the things that make the shame return.
Focus On Your Mental Well-Being
Concentrating on your mental health can improve your self-esteem and stop you from engaging in destructive behaviors. It allows you to become aware of your emotions and deal with any distressing ones. Moreover, you can better control your stress and anxiety by making time for yourself.
There are several strategies to concentrate on your mental health. For instance, self-care is a crucial component of maintaining mental wellness. Simple activities like stretching, eating a balanced meal and walking or hiking can improve your mood and encourage more self-awareness. You will be so focused on doing healthy routines and activities that you won’t have time or energy to lapse back into your old maladaptive habits!
Be Gentle with Yourself
The mindful ways to break self-destructive habits don’t work overnight. When you strive for healthy coping mechanisms, you must practice self-compassion and forgiveness. After all, you may experience mental, emotional, and physical addiction to the behaviors when you have relied on them to ease your suffering for a long time. Therefore, it’s crucial to allow yourself grace; don’t beat yourself up, accept help from others, and know that you are deserving of the support from others and from yourself.
Furthermore, making mistakes while you work to break bad habits is normal and expected – because a) life is hard and b) society led you to these unhealthy coping skills in the first place! But the fact that you keep trying despite all that indicates that you’re on the right track. So be gentle with yourself. You are a work in progress. Just keep moving forward on your lifelong journey of self-improvement and toward wellness and you will get there step by step!
Try Therapy or Support in Any Form
Consider therapy if you’re having trouble gaining control over your self-destructive tendencies. A professional counselor can assist you in developing effective coping strategies for managing mental health conditions like depression, stress, and anxiety disorder. Those who act destructively toward themselves frequently have a history of traumatic experiences. A therapist can support you while you explore your prior experiences and assist you in identifying underlying issues. You can have therapy sessions from the comfort of your home or in person.
Also, some bad habits and addictions are harder to get over than others, so while one-on-one talk therapy is highly recommended, there are structured group settings – both in person and online – that can work to fill in the gaps (and fill up your free time) until the new pathways can fully solidify in your conscious AND subconscious minds. This outside support expands beyond the healthcare world too – consider Facebook or Discord groups, reading self-help books, and listing to podcasts. It took a village to make you need these unhealthy coping skills to begin with, so utilize the entire village to help overcome them too!
We hope these mindful ways to break self-destructive habits will help you in your journey toward healing. However, if you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Self-destructive conduct has many causes, each person’s motivations differ, and you should never feel alone or ashamed in your struggles. If you think that your behaviors may result from a mental health problem and not just the normal pressures of life, please reach out to a mental health expert to be evaluated and ensure you are receiving the best support possible for your individual needs – because you always deserve the best care and attention available.