Self-destructive or dysregulated behaviors provide relief or even pleasure in the short-term – but ultimately get in the way of living a life that feels satisfying and fulfilling. These behaviors can include alcohol/drug abuse, binge eating, compulsive computer gaming, self-injury, smoking, chronic avoidance, or a host of other behaviors that feel helpful in the moment but harmful over time.
A huge predisposing factor for self-destructive tendencies is adverse childhood experiences.
This ACE study demonstrates the higher the number of adverse experiences in childhood, the higher the risk for poor mental and physical health in adulthood. It's also important to keep this in mind
Incidents of abuse are never stand-alone events. And for each additional adverse experience reported, the toll in later damage increases. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, The Body Keeps the Score
In addition to the obvious forms of self-destruction, there are subtle forms. For example, workaholism, perfectionism, or a fitness 'obsession' may even be encouraged by society.
Other examples of less-recognized forms of self-destruction may include:
Difficulty maintaining employment
Inability to recognize unhealthy relationships
Inability to maintain intimate relationships
Avoidance of interpersonal conflict
Difficulty facing problems or decisions
Whether obvious or subtle, self-destruction is always damaging to the individual and to those who love them.
I have struggled with self-destruction. I meet several of the criteria of the ACE study. My biological father was an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser. Before the age of six, my parents divorced and my dad died suddenly. To make matters worse, no one grieved or talked about him again.
Knowing what I do now, it's no surprise I struggled with depression, anxiety and an undiagnosed eating disorder from my early teens into my thirties.
I was fortunate. Eventually, I got the help I needed. I grieved and processed the events of my childhood and made significant changes. I no longer struggle.
When you live with someone who struggles
I'm in a different position today. As the spouse to a survivor, I see him struggle with his issues of self-destruction: decision-making, avoidance of conflict, and difficulties with relationships.
I've lived with self-destruction and I live with someone who still struggles with it.
What do you do when you or someone you love struggles with self-destructive behaviors?*
Please remember, these are the things I've found helpful. The intent of this post is not to provide professional advice. Many of these behaviors require professional intervention. Please access local resources.1. Seek help
If you are able, access professional, trauma-informed therapy for yourself and your loved one. If not, find an agency that offers to counsel at a reduced or free rate.
2. Access peer support: in person or online.
My personal recommendation for survivors and supporters is Trauma Recovery University. Its focus is on survivors, but I have found a warm and welcoming community for supporters too. You'll find a weekly live stream Youtube with twitter chat, a library of over 160 Youtube videos, Facebook groups (secret), and peer support.
3. Take a break.
It's okay to take time away. This can look like a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. We have done variations of all of it.
4. Know your limits and talk about them
Know when you have reached your limit. Have an open discussion about changes that need to happen if you are to stay healthy. Fortunately, my partner is committed to recovery.
5. Seek education and information
As I've said before, learn about trauma and its impact on you and your loved one.
Yes, self-destruction is an ugly topic. But understanding past trauma, accessing resources and getting support go a long way to overcoming it.
Resources:ACEs Too High
To determine your ACE score. Take the test here.
*The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD
Can You Really Be Addicted to a Behavior? Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, HuffPost