Self-destructive behaviours | Self-defeating behaviours
Self-handicapping | Self-sabotage | Self-harm

self-destruction

SELF-DESTRUCTION is one of seven basic character flaws or “dark” personality traits. 
We all have the potential for self-destructive tendencies, but in people with a strong fear of losing self-control, Self-Destruction can become a dominant pattern.

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What Is Self-Destruction?

Self destruction is usually defined as “The voluntary destruction of something by itself.”

In human personality terms, we are really talking about counter-productive and ultimately self-destructive behaviour patterns which can cause oneself irreparable harm or damage, either deliberately or inadvertently. It’s an umbrella term for a variety of self-damaging tendencies in the personality: from doing things that always seem to backfire, to habitual self-harm, to suicidal recklessness.

As with the opposite trait of greed, self-destruction represents a dysfunction in a person’s fundamental relationship with life.

Despicable me

With greed, the person feels that there is something missing from their own life that must be constantly obtained from outside. With self-destruction, however, the person feels that there is something fundamentally bad within their life, or within their very soul, and that this part of their existence needs to be kept under strict control.

It may be part of oneself that once suffered unbearable abuse or damage, perhaps way back in childhood. To remember this part of the self is just too painful.

Moreover, “There is something about me” — an anxious young person may imagine — “that must have provoked or attracted or deserved such treatment, for why else would it have happened?”  To give expression to this part of oneself once more could simply cause the same traumatic experiences to happen again.

For example, if my physical body attracts abuse, then maybe I should make it disappear by not eating.

Another good name for self-destruction could be self-denial. There is a splitting of the personality in which any expression or exposure of this “thing in me” is to be suppressed by any means possible. The person feels that this part must be kept under strict control, hidden from everyday life at all costs.

Varieties of Self-Destruction

The most widespread forms of self-destructive behaviour are eating disorders, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and gambling addiction. The most direct form of self-destruction is deliberate physical self-injury or self-harm, the ultimate manifestation of which is deliberate suicide.

self-harm

Deliberate self-injury is common in young people worldwide. It is also linked with borderline personality disorder in adulthood, a chronic and difficult to treat condition characterized by impulsive behaviours, mood instability and high rates of suicide. In fact, self-injurers are about 75 times more likely to kill themselves.

Researchers have discovered a common pattern in such behaviour (see the diagram Precursors to Self Injury, below). The trigger (or “final straw”) is often a threat of separation, rejection or disappointment in life. This adds to feelings of overwhelming tension, isolation, self-hatred, and apprehension about being unable to control one’s own emotions. The increasing anxiety culminates in a frightening sense of unreality and emptiness that ultimately produces an emotional numbness or depersonalization. Self-injury is a primitive means for combating the emotional numbness.

Self-injury

It is as if, by replacing their emotional pain with a physical one, life becomes more bearable. It is also easier for them to demonstrate that they are in pain when the injury is visible and physical rather than “just psychological”.

The element of “destruction” need not be literal or physical, however. For example, self-destruction can take the form of self-sabotage or self-defeating behaviours—continually doing things which are bound to lead to one’s own failure or downfall.
In short, there is a spectrum of self-destructive behaviours, from the mild to the fatal.

Famous Examples

Fiona AppleFiona Apple (b. 1977) is a Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter. At the age of twelve, Fiona was raped on her way home from school.

For years after her rape she would check her closets to make sure no one was hiding in the house and would be nervous around older men. And she still continues to have bad, violent dreams.

During her teens and the months she spent making her album, Tidal, she suffered with an eating disorder. Frustrated at the misunderstanding by the media of her eating disorder she attempted to explain it in a 1998 Rolling Stone interview,

I was really depressed and self-loathing. For me, it wasn’t about being thin, it was about getting rid of the bait attached to my body. A lot of it came from the self-loathing that came from being raped at the point of developing my voluptuousness. I just thought that if you had a body and if you had anything on you that would be grabbed, it would be grabbed. So I did purposely get rid of it.

Other famous cases include:

  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Sid Vicious
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Michael Jackson
  • Marilyn Manson
  • Christina Ricci
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Lindsay Lohan

Note that there is an added complication for self-destructive celebrities. The more they self-harm or take unhealthy risks with their lives, the more negative attention and publicity they generate. As a result, the more successful they become (selling more records or whatever). This merely adds to the vicious circle of self-destruction. It’s as if the entire world wants to know all about their private issues and inner conflicts.

A d v e r t i s e m e n t


Development of Self-Destruction

Like all negative personality traits, self-destruction typically develops through the following sequence:

  1. Early negative experiences
  2. Misconceptions about the nature of self, life or others
  3. A constant fear and sense of insecurity
  4. A maladaptive strategy to protect the self
  5. A persona to hide all of the above in adulthood

Early Negative Experiences

In the case of self-destruction, the early negative experiences typically consist of a childhood abuse or trauma over which the child had no control. This kicks off the self-destructive behaviour, while lack of secure parental attachment helps maintain it.

Perhaps the father was a drunk who came home every night in a violent rage. Perhaps the mother was mentally unstable and would attack her children for no apparent reason. Or perhaps school teachers imposed a severe regime involving random punishments. The key factor leading to a self-destructive pattern is the child’s inability to control the onslaught of harm.

In addition, one or both parents may have been unable or unwilling to give the love, care and attention that were naturally craved by the child. So the child would have felt fundamentally alone in this terror, as well as feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Misconceptions

From such experiences of life as harsh, unpredictable and beyond control, the child comes to perceive ‘life’ as a horrible place and ‘self’ as a magnet for pain. Hence:

If life is so cruel then it is not worth living.
I wish I had never been born.

Being hurt so much means that I must be bad. Perhaps I don’t deserve to live.

Fear

Along on such ideas, the child becomes gripped by a complex fear — the fear of losing control. There are all sorts of ways in which this fear manifests —

  • losing control of one’s boundaries in intimate relationships;
  • losing control of the memory of trauma;
  • losing control of whichever part of oneself “attracts” trauma;
  • losing control of the urge to destroy that part of oneself once and for all.

In other words, the child is terrified of —

  1. repeating an earlier trauma,
  2. expressing whatever part of himself might attract such trauma, and
  3. unleashing his own desire to punish or eliminate that part of himself.

Those caught in self-destruction are thus embroiled in inner conflict.

Strategy

There are various strategies for coping with this complex issue, but the key is to maintain control of something.

My survival depends upon me taking back control of my life.

One increasingly common route, particularly among adolescent girls, is to take control of eating as a way to “suppress” the physical self. This is the basis of the condition known as anorexia nervosa.

Anxiety compels us to find some sort of self-protection, to feel that there is some way we can control what happens to us. But in many families, especially those with a stifling or oppressive atmosphere, there is simply no room for an anxious child undergoing puberty to exercise control over anything around them. Their very anxiety may be seen as an embarrassment, something to be hidden and never discussed.

So “substitute controls” start to appear, like obsessive-compulsive habits and superstitions. In effect, the need for control turns inwards. It’s like saying, “If I can’t do anything to this family, at least I can do something to myself.”

In many cases, mostly female, a sense of freedom and control is found in the act of eating — or rather, the choice to not eat. The ideal of being stick-thin, free from the desire to eat, seems to tick several boxes at once: “I get to be super-attractive, I feel a sense of personal power, I get a lot of attention from the rest of my family, and they have no way to take back control over my refusing to eat what they give me.”

In a metaphorical way, it’s like saying to the family, “I can’t stomach this any longer.”

Because they actually enjoy feeling some sense of control over their own lives, some self-destructive types will keep testing and pushing their degree of control—How much alcohol can I drink at once? Can I drink even more than the last time? How many drugs can I take and not die? How fast can I drive a motorbike and get away with it?

Every time they survive such an experience, it merely bolsters their belief that control in the face of danger is a necessary strategy. It’s like a superstition — So long as I’m wearing a yellow hat, no bears will eat me. But this false sense of control merely begs the question, prompted by the same fear: Is that the limit of my control? Or can I take an even bigger risk?

The constant need to push the edge of control, plus the fear of losing control and thereby experiencing both powerlessness and pain inside oneself, creates inner conflict and a rising tension which demands to be relieved. Being successful in life in whatever way will only serve to increase the tension, since there is even more need to keep everything bottled up and under control.

The self-destructive person may be therefore caught in a cycle between periods of grim self-control and explosive episodes in which a valve blows and some component of the conflict is set free.

The person is also likely to become addicted to these brief moments of relief, however destructive they may be in the long run.

For example, relief may be found in episodes of binge drinking. A massive dose of alcohol serves as an anaesthetic, eliminating the state of conflict, tension and terror for a while. It does nothing to resolve the basic underlying conflict or pain, however. In fact, the awful consequences of binge drinking merely serve to reinforce the fear of losing control at another level. And yet the brief relief it provides is irresistible to the point of becoming addictive.

All people are capable of this kind of behaviour. When it dominates the personality, however, one is said to have a chief feature of self-destruction.

Persona

Emerging into adulthood, a self-destructive young person probably does not want go around being overtly fearful, conflicted and self-destructive. Hence, the chief feature puts on a public mask which says to the world something like, “Everything’s under control. I only act this way because I want to.” “It’s just a bit of fun.” “I am naturally wild and reckless.” “I’m such a fearless rebel.” In other words, he or she tries to make the behaviour seem positive or cool, rather than a reaction to inner terror.

I think that self-destructiveness can also mean self-reflection, can mean poetic sensibility, it can mean empathy, it can mean a hedonism and a libertarianism and a lack of judgement.

- Courtney Love

Like all chief features of false personality, self-destruction is a vicious circle—only in this case, the end result tends to be fatal. Early intervention is therefore crucial. The real danger is when the person with self-destruction starts to believe their own lie. At that point, the chief feature has won and the most likely outcome is an early death.

Positive and Negative Poles

In the case of self-destruction, the positive pole is termed SACRIFICE and the negative pole is termed IMMOLATION or SUICIDE.

Self-destruction poles

Sacrifice brings the habit of self-destruction under conscious control. It is a willingness to deliberately give up or lose something for a good reason, or for a good cause, rather than out of pure fear.

Sacrifice literally means “make sacred”, in the sense of making an offering to the gods. For example, virtually every primitive society in history has included animal sacrifice as part of its religion. A sacrificial offering can be as cheap and as simple as a flower or a stick of incense. Or it can be as valuable as one’s own life. The more valuable the offering, the greater the sacrifice and the more highly it is regarded.

Today we use sacrifice more generically to describe giving something up, doing without, accepting a minor loss as a way to avoid a greater loss, or in anticipation of later gain. For example, when playing chess we might sacrifice a pawn as a way to avoid losing the game.

A person with a chief feature of self-destruction can at least feel good every now and then about giving something up for the best. For example, instead of automatically sabotaging a new relationship, as is their habit, they can be open about it and offer to drop the relationship from the start, and thereby spare the other person later misery. An honest offering to another is more powerful than insidious self-sabotage.

Immolation also means sacrifice, especially ritual sacrifice by fire, but in this context we are talking about self-sacrifice or suicide.

In the early 1960s, many Vietnamese Buddhist monks set fire to themselves in protest at the then ruling regime. Western news media referred to these suicides as acts of “self-immolation”. In these cases, however, the manner of death is closer to martyrdom (suicide as a protest) than self-destruction (suicide as a relief).

In terms of the chief feature of self-destruction, immolation implies physical loss of life, either slowly or quickly, as a way to eliminate the conflict. For example, one person might drink himself to death over the course of a decade, while another might simply slash his wrists.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, in the year 2000, approximately one million people died from suicide, and 10 to 20 times more people attempted suicide worldwide. This represents one death every 40 seconds and one attempt every 3 seconds, on average. Suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death among young people. More people around the world are now dying from suicide than from armed conflict.

The majority of suicides occur in a context of psychological upheaval or crisis. In 90% of cases of actual suicide, a mental disorder prior to the event such as major depression can be identified. Studies of children and adolescents who commit suicide have found not only show a strong prevalence of stressful life events combined with mental disorder (depression, bipolar) but also a level of antisocial behaviour (unwillingness to comply with normal rules) and often an excessive consumption of alcohol or other drugs. In other words, suicide is more likely when a self-destructive tendency is reinforced or enabled through intoxication.

Handling Self-Destruction

As with every negative character feature, the key to handling self-destruction is becoming conscious of how it operates in oneself. Begin with the mask or persona:

  • Do I try to get others to perceive me as carefree, wild, crazy?
  • Do I tend to take risks and act recklessly more than others?

Try to catch yourself in the act of putting on your “devil-may-care” mask or whatever it is for you.

Then dig deeper:

  • Underneath that outer facade, am I really trying to keep everything under control?
  • It’s like I constantly need to prove that I am in total control. Why do I do this? What am I afraid of?
  • Why do I sometimes feel like I’d be better off dead? Is there some part of me that is unbeable or unacceptable?
  • What do I fear would happen if I opened up to this “other” me?
  • Do I just wish others could see, understand and accept the pain I am in?

Approaching the deepest level you may need outside help in the form of a counsellor, therapist or at least a close friend, perhaps even a psychiatrist, especially if you are tackling memories of abuse:

  • Where does this fear come from?
  • How was I hurt?

Just as you can become more aware of self-destructiveness through personal observation and self-enquiry, so too you can gain more control over it through that awareness and by exercising choice in the moment.

  • Whenever I am tempted to harm myself, I can ask myself what message I am trying to send to others. Then I can look for ways to convey that message more explicitly and skilfully.

Another way to handle a dominant negative trait (chief feature) is to “slide” to the positive pole of its opposite. When caught in the grip of immolation or suicide, the negative pole of self-destruction, balance can be found in the positive pole of greed, namely egoism, desire or appetite. In other words, you give attention to what you actually need or want, and communicate that to others.

Further Reading

Transforming Your Dragons

For an excellent book about the various negative patterns and how to handle them, see Transforming Your Dragons by José Stevens.

The Self-Sabotage Cycle For something more specifically about self-destruction, try: The Self-Sabotage Cycle (“Why we repeat behaviours that create hardships and ruin relationships”), by Stanley Rosner and Patricia Hermes.

A useful online information resource on self-destructive and self-harming behaviour is the Suicide and Mental Health Association International. It also includes a list of international hotlines.

There are also various online support groups for those affected by self-harm, self-injury, suicide or suicidal thoughts. An excellent starting point would be selfharm.org.

An informative article is Some kids like to hurt themselves at CNN Opinion by psychlogy professor Theodore Beauchaine.

A recent (Sept 2010) article at MSN.com: The kids aren’t all right. Self-harming on the rise? Reports indicate non-suicidal self-injury becoming more prevalent.

For a TV item on the (pop) psychology of self-destructive celebrities, see:

Related Posts

84 Responses to “Self-Destruction”


  1. 1 Kia Johnson 30 Sep 2013 at 2:38 am

    Hi. I read the article and it was really good. I do have a self destructing personality and I hate it. It makes me feel like I am really weird an just the NOBODY everyone thinks I am. I was a abused child physically mentally and emotionally. All this abuse only got worse as I got older being that family and people friends that I thought I had and a shit load of men used and abused me up the point where sometimes I feel that I’m cursed an have nothing better to give my self or my kids but more hurt and more pain. I don’t know what else to do but pray. It’s been 30 years now and I still haven’t been loved still haven’t been nurtured still am alone unhappy miserable and rejected. I guess God really does love some of his children more than others. I hope and wish well wishes to anyone who has had a fucked up start from the beginning just like me. I hope somebody makes it out of this physical mental and emotional he’ll ALIVE.
    S

    • 2 barry 02 Oct 2013 at 7:48 am

      Hi Kia

      Sounds like you’ve had a really tough life so far. Also sounds like you are surrounded by people, especially men, who assume that the “weak” are there to be exploited by the “strong”. As a result, you have been victimised and it sounds like you are alone with your pain and suffering, which must be incredibly hard.

      That said, things can always change. No situation is set in stone. But you have to believe in the possibility.

      If you believe that change is possible, then it is. But if you don’t to believe that your life can change, then it probably won’t.

      There are always options and possibilities, especially if you choose to think, feel or act different. What options are available to you? Regardless of what people have imposed on you in the past, what kind of life do *you* actually want to live?

      I would suggest you at least try to avoid feeling resigned to a terrible fate. God doesn’t love some more than others – we are all equally beloved, but also equally free to find our own way in life. Some people find it easy to dominate and exploit others, so they feel “free” but they don’t yet understand love. Their soul’s challenge is to learn basic human compassion and kindness. On the other hand, there are many people who are naturally “nice”, humble, and sensitive, but find that they are easily exploited – so their challenge is to find some inner power and strength and the freedom to choose their own lives, without hurting anyone else.

      It also helps to have some emotional support from others – people who care and sympathise, such as a church group or a women’s support group. Try not to be alone with it all.

      I wish you the best of luck.

      Barry

  2. 3 EJOwnsIt 17 Nov 2013 at 6:41 am

    Hey, I am 21 years old. I am currently living in my dad’s hometown with both of the parentals. I am not sure if this is deemed self-destructive but it certainly would seem like it. See, my chief feature is self-depreciation. I don’t like taking credit for anything. I hate people looking at me but deep inside I do want to be acknowledged (so I am aware that the self-depreciation is a complete front.) But, I am thinking my secondary characteristic is self-destruction. Because as one of the previous commenters, I love to write. Yet, at school I do nothing. I completely zone out and do other things. I like to participate in class and not study. I love to both read and write and the content of the courses that I choose to enroll in as well. I am beyond a procrastinator and have failed classes that I LOVED and participated heavily in due to just that. When it comes to men, I tend to jump to conclusions assuming that they’ll think I am ugly, worthless, or crazy. Thinking that I am unattractive usually being the most prevalent.(It is probably due to most of the bullying being done by males.) In spite of my capacity for writing, I have a lack of interest in things that would seem to progress me to my career path,

    I was bullied from Kindergarten into high school. My friends and I had various fallouts over the years and for the majority of my life I felt alone (even though in me I knew that I was NEVER alone.) I had imaginary friends until about the eighth grade. I was molested throughout my middle school years, was raped during the summer vacay between 8th and 9th grade (by a close member of the family and accepted it (foolishly thinking that he loved me.)) became a doormat to crushes during high school, and was a complete sore thumb during the first three years of college. I have a very dim view on relationships and think very little of myself. I live in a perpetual childhood in my mind that goes back to fourth grade where I was bullied by both teachers and students. Since I do admit to going to school as a pastime because I felt better at home. I feel like I am only at school because it is what I need to succeed supposedly. But deep inside, I LOVE SCHOOL AND I WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL! I WANT TO BE KNOWN, ACKNOWLEDGED, RESPECTED, LOVED, WEALTHY (IN ALL WAYS), AND HEALTHY! I do want people to live well deep in me and that was always what my desire was. But I think this may have been what started this self destructive procrastination and self undoing in the first place. The fact that I wanted to share everything with everyone and nobody ever wanted to hear me and thought lowly of me so I shut down and fourth grade damaged me for a very long time. I honestly think that my shadow is stuck there.

    • 4 barry 09 Jan 2014 at 7:36 pm

      Hi there

      I’m sorry it’s taken me some weeks to get back to you – you’re not the only one, though (I currently have about 42 enquiries like yours in the queue). I have chronic fatigue, which is particularly unhelpful at busy times of year like the run-up to Xmas.

      I have read your description of how it is for you (several times over). The factor of self-deprecation comes across quite clearly, particularly the “pre-emptive strike” of negatively judging how men will find you. But there are several layers of stuff that I am trying to disentangle – I may be on the wrong track (feel free to provide clarifications and corrections) but right now I’m not seeing your ‘procrastination’ as a fully-formed pattern of self-destruction but more like a way to handle (more specifically, to avoid) a sore issue.

      To summarise, you love to read and have an ability to write, and writing would seem a possible career option for you, and the acknowledgement you might receive for being a good writer could be very rewarding for you (assuming your self-deprecation doesn’t jump on it!).

      At the same time, you have grown up with very few real friends and with a history of unfortunate experiences at the hands of others, particularly men: exploitation, teasing, bullying and even rape. Interestingly, though, you don’t express (here at least) any negativity or resentment about THEM, just a sort of sad confusion about YOU.

      One thing I sense is that you may be a Server type, one who loves to serve and support others, who finds meaning and purpose in making others’ lives better. At least, you have a sincere drive to support the well being of others.

      But I can also see that your experience of school — which is supposed to be a place that prepares our young brains for life as working adults — is completely overlaid with these dark memories and situations you would rather have done without, to put it mildly. So while a mature part of you appreciates the value of school, a less mature part of you has become repulsed by it through bitter experience. And, psychologically, that part of you is still “right there”, at that age, facing those experiences. This is not dissimilar to the post-traumatic syndrome of, say, a soldier who has been home from war for several months but inwardly still feels “locked” in a particular incident in Iraq, or wherever.

      Stepping back to see a bigger picture, beneath your basic conflict (interest v procrastination) I sense a deeper issue with self-expression. My guess is that your expressive side is being firmly held back by a sort of fear of exposure due to the school experience.

      Many of our unconscious blocks can be seen as “unfinished business” or incomplete interactions with others in our past. For example, like the soldier returning from a traumatic battle, for a while we might continually re-run an experience of violence, looking for ways in which we could have acted and spoken differently, taken control, not being the victim, acted with more awareness or compassion or power. After a while we might stop consciously re-running the scene in our minds, but we still continue to unconsciously EXPECT similar situations and try to ACT the way we think we should have. It’s like, we’re not finished until we finally hear ourselves saying what we wish we had originally said at the time.

      This is, potentially, what is keeping you emotionally frozen to a particular place and time (4th grade). It’s as if, subconsciously, you still feel a need to MAKE that bad situation right. Or at least EXPRESS how wronged you have felt – let the world know what really happened.

      So I am wondering if the way forward for you is to use your writing abilities to capture THAT experience – what is was like for you, what you made of the others involved, what effect it had on you, how you now feel about it. This wouldn’t be for publication, necessarily – it could just be your private story. And in the process, you may well go through tears. But I suspect that it would be a healing exercise for you.

      There is a sort of elegance here that appeals to me. You become a writer by, first, writing about that which has been holding you back from writing.

      Perhaps there are things of that time that you have felt in need of expressing, but the shutting-down of your self-expression since then has, ironically, left you like a stuck record, never getting to the end of the song. You cannot become unstuck until you write the rest of the song – by which I mean, write the story, not only fully capturing all the things that were said and done, but then also (and perhaps more crucially) things that were NOT said or done that maybe could have been or you wish you had done.

      One last thought. While it’s not uncommon for young adults to remain living with their parents (given the cost of accommodation), it poses an issue. Between 15-20 is the age when most of us undergo a psychological transition of starting to assert our own identity in the world at large — defining ourselves independently of how our family and childhood have defined us hitherto. A physical move away from the family home — fleeing the nest — usually symbolises our inner commitment to this big change. You don’t HAVE to leave home to become a self-defined adult, but it helps in cases where the family are unwilling to see one changing — they might insist on relating to you in the same old role that they’ve always assigned to you (“That Useless Girl” for example). This is just food for thought, though I would just note again that it is related to freedom of self-expression. Are you ready and willing to be who YOU say you are rather than go along with others’ old perceptions of you?

      Hope this helps somehow, and not too late

      Barry

  3. 5 Kay 15 Dec 2013 at 6:24 pm

    So much pain in so many lives. As an empath, this is beyond painful for me to read yet i do read them. i wish i could be an angel and heal everyone including myself. sometimes it’s hard to breath the pain is so great. hugs to everyone

    • 6 barry 15 Dec 2013 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Kay

  4. 7 Cassandra 06 Feb 2014 at 9:39 am

    I have no clue what my goal might be, maybe contentment, but my self-destructive nature is the biggest obstacle in my life. I was raised in a highly controlling and severely punitive religious home. I could not have any friends over and have developed a social phobia. In my 20s I began my decade long struggle with alcoholism. I had a period of cutting myself that lasted about a year in my early 20s but was able to stop. Drinking was the only thing that dulled the anger and tenseness I always feel, even today. After detox and extensive rehab I am now sober but the tenseness and anger is still present in my life. I was highly controlled, punished and indoctrinated for my entire childhood. I feel a seething rage and hatred for my parents. Outwardly, I am cordial to them, but inwardly I hate them.

    I am currently trying to finish a bachelor’s degree and have a 4.0 GPA. I don’t have any particular field that I want to go into. I am interested in my studies but don’t picture myself doing it as a living (my degree field). I have changed academic majors 5 or 6 times since I began my higher education (I stopped going to school when I began drinking heavily and have recently returned). I chose my current major because I want to graduate. The only thing that I’m sure of in life is that I want it to be peaceful and relatively carefree. And enjoyable. I will be forty soon and the outrage I feel at seeing children have to suffer what I went through weighs heavy on me. The abuse of children and animals makes me feel both angry and helpless because I can’t do anything about it. Can you help me get a clearer picture of what my goal should be and how I can address the anger I feel?

  5. 8 wanjiru 04 Mar 2014 at 10:54 am

    I believe my child hood was not normal, mum was alone and with little money from her government job, once in a while got abusive when i did something wrong or did not perform in school, she would buy me good things and yet again expect much from a child, perfection. i grew up hating and fearing her. went to boarding school early and dint experience friendship. i am now unable to handle relationships, worried al b a bad mum someday but people see me as this aggresive focussed lady. once in a while my fears sprout and the deep hurt comes out and in those times i feel like doing extreems like taking alcohol or careless sexual behaviour. my numbness has been in achieving careerwise, but that is not all there is to life. i will want my other facets of life to grow too. relationships especially, i hope i can get the book in kenya, a hard copy always works. thank you for the insights.

  6. 9 Martin 16 Apr 2014 at 4:08 am

    Self destruction is an insidious and at times obvious or maybe not so apparent creature that we grapple with in our daily lives performing our ritualistic vices and self destructive tendencies. How peculiar to feel intelligent and accomplished knowing fully the consequences of your actions but continue on with the absurd foolishness and self deceit, thinking to yourself that soon you will quit(what ever it is that your doing to yourself and others) because you know better, not just knowing better, but comprehensively and fully engaged with the eminent end result. How is it that this self reasoning, coupled with self awareness is such an El Dorado and people perceive us most of the time, as having it together, when in reality we are no help to ourselves, even being completely equipped with the knowledge of our self detriment. What a divide or duality to exist within yourself as I do, exteriorly projecting a cool image, when in reality a total spiritual, physical and mental wreck. It is a strange form of insanity and even more disturbing; comfortable.

  7. 10 Michelle 18 Apr 2014 at 6:12 pm

    I honestly do not know where to begin. I have spent my whole life running, running from myself, running from my emotions, running from some very dark feelings I tried desperately to ignore and keep at bay. Afraid of life and everyone in it but doing a very good job to cover it up and deny I was a very stressed, anxious, fearful and depressed person. I worked hard on myself spiritually doing everything I could to get past my fear and it worked. I was in control so I thought and I didn’t think anyone in the world realized how still waters run deep but I had myself in a fog of denial until one particular point in my life I could no longer keep it in and I fell into a level of depression I can’t even describe it, it was so profound and severe.

    Looking back on my life I have to admit I have always had a generalized depression and detachment from life. I never really jumped in all the way always sitting on the sidelines not participating and when things are not going well I am very self-destructive. I was very, very good at hiding it from the world and even from myself but I had a lot of hints. I had some very reckless behavior when I was younger. I am lucky my body does not tolerate alcohol or drugs well or I would have gone down that unfortunate path and my whole life I have been known to be pretty reckless on the road and more recently I have taken to hitting myself. And though I had run of the mill depression from time to time my whole life there were a few instances of very brief severe depression until this last time when I could not make it go away. I tried with all my might to run from what I was feeling because it is almost impossible to describe the absolute pain in your core that you feel with this but this time I couldn’t will it away. And so though I fought the state as hard as I could I had no choice but to finally look at what I was feeling and in my honesty I discovered that I did not want to just die because I knew that would not solve the issue. What I wanted was to not exist. I wanted to destroy myself to the point that I no longer existed in any form, spirit or otherwise and try as I might I just could not stop feeling this way. And so I tried with all my might to implode on the spot and not being able to accomplish that end was pure torture.

    And so the past few years have been solely about trying to overcome this and quite frankly trying to not die. I have learned a lot about myself but reading your description of a self-destructive personality put it all in place for me. It wasn’t just depression I was fighting but rather an intense desire to annihilate myself. But the part that really clicked for me was the fact that self-destructive people see themselves as flawed. I did not see this conflict going on inside and yet there truly is this battle raging. I appear to be stuck in a repeating cycle of losing control of my emotions and then trying to tear myself down because of it. And as much as I try to accept that I am only human and just doing the best I can I just can’t seem to change my mind that there is something inherently wrong with me. There is a part of me that truly does feel that my soul is flawed and because of that I must be stopped before something bad happens to anyone.

    So thank you for the article. I found it validating and helpful and I will reread it a few times so I can hopefully get a better handle on my issues. I do see that I fall on the hyperstress side. I fear my emotions though through this I have learned that I can experience and tolerate extremely strong emotions more than I thought but I am still unclear where this all stems for me. I had a hyper critical father but he was not abusive in any way so it almost seems as though I was born with this issue but I guess the how is not so important as understanding myself in the present so I can gain control of my destructive reactions. Not something that is easy to do and so I appreciate your spiritual approach to mental health issues that can be difficult to overcome especially when they are regarded in a very clinical and impersonal way.

  8. 11 catfurball 02 May 2014 at 5:29 am

    You know, I came across this site because I’m writing a screenplay and wanted a couple of different personality flaws for a particularly unlikeable character. Though I didn’t see him as self-destructive, I opened this post as I knew I’d been practically eaten alive by it at various times in my life since I was assaulted twice by my uncle when I was young. Though it’s obvious now that I read it, I had no idea risk taking tendencies and justifying them as being a “wild child” or “black sheep” in my 20s and 30s or suicidal intentions for almost thirty years was linked to ‘self-destructiveness’. I just narrowed the wild ways down to boredom/being alternative/depression; and the suicidal thoughts came from ‘depression’ about the childhood event and that was it. I don’t like distractions when I’m writing scripts but I really took the time to read this post about self-destructiveness and it elucidated some answers about the many questions I’ve had about my constant suicidal thoughts over the years – more than what any shrink has done for me in the past, let me tell you. And for the first time, after reading it and saving it to my ‘favourites’, I’m really taking back control of this negative suicidal aspect to my personality and, more importantly, UNDERSTANDING now that it can come not only from depression but from being self-destructive. I acknowledge it when it comes now. I talk to it! I say, ‘Yeah, save it — I know why you’re here, and you can bugger off! GET LOST!!” I’ve battled with this for so long, but not anymore. I’ve got one up on it. Great post! Thanks so much.

    • 12 barry 02 May 2014 at 10:32 pm

      I’m truly delighted that you got so much from it. Your shift with this mindset is inspiring!
      cheers
      barry

  9. 13 Kay 06 May 2014 at 3:42 pm

    very well said and i hope you are all doing well. HUGS

  10. 14 Kay 06 May 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Barry, what are you recommendations for when someone shuts down for too long? They are aware but they do not know or care to open up again.

    • 15 rod 15 Oct 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Kay,
      i know how you feel, endless hours on the lounge or in bed, who cares, just leave me alone.
      I’m a bloke and strong and and I spent two years doing just that on my older brothers lounge. Feeling bad, worthless. I got into a routine.

      Until your been there its hard to explain, coming out the other side is something you never forget. I wont go into depression or any other phobias, this is heavy shit. No one can get you out of it, its with you for life. Well maybe….

      So your screwed up, life sucks and you don’t wanna talk to no one.
      ppl keep pesting you but you know when your rdy. Hell i didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. So do it! without anyones help.

      Stand proud, you can do this. Show ppl what your capable of.
      “Don’t write me off! I’m a better person because I faced and over come it”

      meh, it has to be your call, you have to dig deep to find you. Never look back and don’t back down. To over come your own self is more worth in my eyes.

      Stand tall be noticed….
      gl

  11. 16 LesKel 10 Jun 2014 at 3:27 pm

    This is informative – thanks Barry. I have a professional self-destructive behaviour (at least that’s how I perceive it) and am to clammed up to seek professional advice, yet. Whenever i’m likely to get a positive change at work place, I sabotage it myself and make sure nothing good happens to me. I perform my duties very well and I know that good things will follow and it’s only a question of time before i dive-bomb. I have noticed this only off late, but i’ve been at it for the past decade or so. I haven’t (and never will) harmed myself physically, but now that the pattern is identified, i’m struggling to straighten myself. Any help? Please. Thanks in advance.

    • 17 barry 13 Jun 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Hi LesKel

      First thing that occurs to me is: do you carry a sense of guilt? The feeling that you have done something which you believe you shouldn’t have done? Perhaps not a conscious feeling of guilt in your everyday awareness, but somewhere in the depths of your mind?

      People who feel truly guilty will also feel they don’t deserve happiness or good fortune, so they will (subconsciously) prevent themselves from experiencing the very rewards they are consciously seeking. I’ve seen this in spiritual groups when people get to the edge of a great insight or breakthrough, but then they somehow won’t let it just happen – and suddenly they find themselves thinking, “I’m not the sort of person who should have this – I don’t deserve it – there are others who are much more deserving than me…”

      So it could be that you’re doing everything right (as you feel you should) but then you’re ensuring that you don’t get any credit or reward for all that by sabotaging it at the last moment.

      Another possibility is that you fear the step-up in responsibility and attention that comes with “success”. For some people, no matter what their ambitions, they imagine it is just cosier and less stressful to stay where they have always been.

      Any resonances?

      B

      • 18 leskels 14 Jun 2014 at 7:11 pm

        Pleasantly surprised by your early response. Thank YOU.

        Pushing myself to think on the lines of your 1st question – yes, there are several guilty feelings that I carry – but these have been around since before my youth…. so why now is what I will need to figure. About ‘sucess’ – i’m comfortable with that and I thrive in pressure. Let me think and analyze on the ‘guilt’ front.

        Thank you once again for the direction, Barry. Cheers !!

  12. 19 rod 15 Oct 2014 at 2:29 pm

    As i read your post i agreed, the more i read the more angry I became.
    To the point i understood why. I was angry because . It covers such a huge range of ppl. Yet i read on.

    Self destruction doesn’t mean your a junkie. Its about self respect. Its about self worth. Sure drugs might be your choice of destruction but to me that would be shallow. First you must prove yourself, to be better. To achieve things others wouldn’t or couldn’t. Once i had this, it would kick in.
    I didn’t think of it as self destruction, rather I didn’t deserve what I had.

    Years later alone, I still do amazing shit. I reflect on what i pushed away.
    Not understanding why. Though always knowing that no matter what i hold dear I cant keep. I disappointed women, I wanted for life. Purely because of self destruction one way or another. I knew I was doing it! It just didn’t know why.

    You mention ppl taking own lives. I thought about it sure, but so hasn’t everyone else. I don’t believe it can be associated to self worth or self destruction as we are slow killers. Death I know wont end it.

    Its up with something we have to put.

    Do your best, then do better. Those that matter, matter because of you,
    do better.

    Maybe us self destructive losers don’t need help, but it would be good to understand why. b4 we lose it

  13. 20 rod 15 Oct 2014 at 3:39 pm

    re- reading all above makes my concerns silly, I guess ppl need validation or reassurance. Or more importantly that someone cares.

    NO one human life is more important than another. Like the butterfly effect no one discovery can be truly be claimed. For example without death the doctor wouldn’t of found a cure.

    LOL i know this sounds extreme but it shows every action has a reaction.
    So for you to tell your storey to umm reach out, to be open and honest has its own reaction without you every revisiting this site again.

    Thats just you, go figure. Imagine what you could do if you tried?
    Not all the world is nasty. Sometimes a simple smile brightens a day.

  14. 21 Kay 16 Oct 2014 at 11:25 am

    Thank you Barry. when i shut down it is not because of what someone else has done. it’s me. people are not doing anything wrong. i know i shutdown and i know it’s not healthy but i can’t seem to stop it. i try very hard each and every day to push through it and force myself not to close off the world and those who love and care about me. i am aware, very aware i just do not know how to stop it. i guess… it feels good to be alone, it feels safe when i’m alone and hidden from the world. sometimes the world feels too big for me, even when love surrounds me, it’s overwhelming. crowds or just a handful of people make me uncomfortable. happy or unhappy moments, it does not seem to matter, it always feels overwhelming… not sure what it means. Kay


  1. 1 Destructive | Living In WellBeing Trackback on 25 Apr 2013 at 3:52 am

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