I Can’t Seem to Stop My Self-Destructive Behavior

Hi. I'm not sure how you can help, but I feel like I've made one self-destructive decision after another in life, and I don't know how to end the cycle. Six years ago I had the best girlfriend a guy could ever hope for—the BEST—and I threw it away, always thinking the grass could be greener and not appreciating the vast swath of green that was before me. I've also pretty much killed my career; I went from making $80,000 a year to $30,000 in five years after getting fired from the best job I ever had for treating my colleagues disrespectfully. My contacts have abandoned me. And to top it all off, now I'm having risky sex—the riskier it is, the more I seem to desire it. What's wrong with me? What's compelling me to shoot myself in the foot, so to speak, in every area of my life? What if I can't change? What if I don't want to? —Self-Destructing
Dear Self-Destructing,

Feeling like you’re compelled to self-destruct is a very scary place to be; you probably feel out of control and scared about what might come next or the consequences of the behaviors you’ve described. I imagine that you are also grappling with some feelings of guilt and shame. This response will not give you all the answers you might be seeking, but hopefully it will shed some light on what to do next.

I was struck by your statement “What’s wrong with me?” because I don’t necessarily see anything “wrong” with you. I wonder if you would be willing to look at your behavior not as something that is “wrong” but rather as an indication that you are hurting and this behavior is letting you know. Often, when I see people who are acting out in self-destructive ways it is an unconscious way of self-sabotage. Perhaps you feel unworthy of love, success, and happiness, and act in ways to reaffirm that belief. Perhaps you are afraid of closeness and intimacy and use these behaviors as a way to keep yourself distanced from others. It is really difficult to pinpoint an exact cause without knowing more about your situation, but I would venture to say that you are unhappy and frustrated with how you’ve been living and may be reaching a point where you’re ready to make some changes. Even though you may feel very out of control right now, may I encourage you with the idea that you can always choose a different path and, therefore, a different outcome.

It takes a lot of courage to send in a question like this one; I hope you continue and take the next step of calling a qualified therapist who can help you understand why you’ve made the choices you have and who can journey with you as you decide how you will live from this point forward. It is not an easy road to walk, but it is always well worth it in the end


Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Bradley

    June 7th, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    I know that there days like today that you probably feel like it’s all coming apart at the seams, but maybe this was the wake up call that you needed to get your life back on track. It sounds like you are young, so you know what? That means there is still LOTS of time to make all of this right. And the best sign to me is that you see that this is an issue and you recognize that your actions could play a role in all of this and you are willing to start the work that needs to be done to set things right. I wish you the best of luck, man, but I promise that once you start taking those first steps toward a better life, change is gonna come your way and finally in a way that is pleasing.

  • libet

    June 8th, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    Kind of sounds like there are some issues there that need to be resolved. You are purposely deconstructing your life and you don’t know why? Oh I think that some part of you knows why. You might not be willing to confront that right now but I think that deep down inside you may have a suspicion about why you would constantly do this to yourself.
    Something has maybe caused you to believe that you don’t deserve to be a success or to be happy? Might be time to think about that and figure out where all of that is coming from.

  • kim

    June 9th, 2013 at 12:06 AM

    if you can go from good to not so good,then there must be a way from there back to good!believe in yourself and then take steps.risky sex and enjoying it seems like a bit of addiction,you definitely need to take steps and maybe even help from a professional.the earlier you begin the better!

  • randy

    June 9th, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    first of all-congrats! you have decided to seek help and that is the first step to recovery.and you haven’t lost everything.see things from a positive light.things could have been much worse.but you still have a roof over your head and food on the table.that is a lot.as for the behavior I think the fact that you have realized it is wrong is a good start.you now need to see and realize how this behavior of yours is hurting your life in so many ways.

    and once you see and fully recognize that I’m sure you’ll want to turn things around.professional help can help you.as can help and support from family and friends.and let us not forget the role of spirituality if you;’re a believer that is.stay strong my friend,and you can weather this storm!

  • Joe

    June 10th, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    What is it about you that makes you think that you don’t deserve to be a success, cause that’s what all of this osunds like to me

  • KK

    August 12th, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    I am first struck by how little help any comments or advice actually gives. I have been working for years to stop WANTING to be self destructive. Despite being on medication for bipolar I am still addicted to the pain of being self destruction.
    Please give advice if you have been in this situation and actually succeeded in making progress towards not hurting so much. And please do not say “go see a therapist” Been there, done that…for 25 years now.

  • Sherri

    September 16th, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    I have same issue. In therapy many yrs. W meds for many yrs too. Still feel alot of myself has been dissected- but still can’t find a peaceful answer. Don’t want more meds. In fact… I want off of them!!

  • Ben

    October 6th, 2014 at 5:07 AM

    I think i am self-destructive! i hate the thought of work as i am scared i will fail i am ruining my relationship with drink and i can never see the good just the bad the person i am with is the most amazing person in the world but its going to end soon if i dont change i feel so much guilt everyday and dont know what to do anybody feel the same ? and if so any success stories

  • Andy

    February 3rd, 2015 at 3:48 AM

    I could also really do with someone replying to Ben’s post. I’m in a similar situation to those described. I’m viewing porn on my workphone so it is only a matter of time before I lose my good income, throw my family into chaos, lose the respect of my kids, my family, my peers. Yet I still do it. I’m exercising, and seeing improvements in my fitness but it is not carrying over into my mental wellbeing. I think there is something to be said about the deep rooted cause (see libet’s post) but I have no idea what mine is.

  • hooch

    April 30th, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    Competitive parent (s)?
    ‘Dont you dare succeed’
    = self sabotage.

  • Jon

    September 11th, 2018 at 4:23 PM

    Parents can play a very negative role sometimes.

  • Barney

    January 2nd, 2016 at 12:15 AM

    I am also struck just by how little practical advice there actually is for people that need to overcome self destructive behaviours. Also after spending years listening to do-gooders telling me how I must be self sabotaging, hurting etc. I realised they don’t actually have a clue. Sure I may be hurting, self sabortaging etc but what they were not telling me was that over the years of living in that way, my brain has strengthened the bad habits and I lost sight of what it actually means to live according to my own self interest. I lost the ability to know what it means to live with good habits, or maybe I’ve lived and worked around people who were as trashed as I was and who supported my own destructive behaviour. I am learning different. There is a great series of books called Change Anything. They actually teach you how to be the scientist you need to be and find your own ways of changing that work for you. They give you a kind of template. I purchased their 3 books on Kindle for a total of about $50.00. They changed my life forever. I’ve had really strong self destructive behaviours which for the first time in many years I am finally overcoming.

  • Tweets

    May 1st, 2016 at 12:42 AM

    Our brains naturally want to prove our selves right. If you think you are going to fail then you will, if you think you will hate everyone then you will. It is very hard but if you force yourself to think the positive scenerios then eventually it will start to happen. This is a very useful tool , but it needs perciverance. The longer u practice the easier it becomes and u will form a habit. Now I’m telling you this as a reminder to myself ! I stopped using the technique after I started to feel better and again I am in self distruct. Yes you can speak to people, but at the end of the day it’s up to you. You are the only person that can re-tune the way your brain thinks and makes decisions. So for every wrong choice you think you are going to make , stop and think NO I’m doing this and I’m going to do it right. I certainly need to!! Might not help all but a useful tool !!

  • L

    August 28th, 2016 at 1:58 AM

    I’m in my 40’s and am self destructing I have been a walking depressive, started a new job, got spoken to inappropriately and did try and address it which was denied this was always done on a one to one basis so no witnesses. Anyway I have reacted badly by bringing up conflict then not staying to resolve it. I asked for a move which is granted feel like I blamed coworker and should have been mature enough to realise we both were at fault. My work had lots of good points think my depression didn’t help with my response to the situation. Feel so unhappy realise I was pretty unappreciative too. Now feel like I will be judged by my reactions, guess I need to keep moving forward and try my best to look at things positively. Feel as though I am experiencing a mid-life crisis and have gone off my head as I should have considered my family in the midst of this. Surely these reactions aren’t normal, have I played the victim, due to ego, self sabotaged and turned into a person that became unkind and uncooperative.

  • L

    August 28th, 2016 at 10:40 PM

    Think the trick is to step a step back look at the whole picture find strength to stop yourself from doing/saying things that are beneficial for you. I didn’t and in the back of my mind I knew things wouldn’t be great but I felt like I didn’t have the strength to deal with it. I can’t go back think the thing is make sure you are mentally well. I got negative and depressed when you can look at things in a different light with positivity and gratitude it runs off on all. Lesson learned only thing is I need to live out my destructive behaviour everyday thinking what was I doing? Forgiveness and positive self love affirmations hopefully will work. Anybody got any suggestions or advice would love to hear. Not sure how I ended up reacting so badly which is obviously is detrimental to myself. Craziness!

  • laura

    September 13th, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Maybe you’ve found a dangerous high. Shame actually activates your brain’s reward center. It sounds like you may have been ambitious before, maybe you got drunk on that feeling and somehow got lost, and found that feeling with guilt and shame being your new high and you’re addicted to it.

  • pigeonrobin

    November 16th, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    I’m self destructive. Some of it is beyond my control. I’ve lost jobs, walked out of jobs, eaten bottles of sleeping pills in their entirety, disrespected myself publicly, drank 409, it’s hard to put into words. You aren’t there when you’re doing it. You are but you aren’t alone. It’s a feeling of being “possessed” “demonized” “locked in a room which is in your mind” “escaping abuse that hurts worse than the pain of self harming, mutiliating, sleeping all day”. Mine’s worse when I don’t get fresh air, move around. It’s like a within without thing where you’re stuck floating in your own body in a crowd. It’s very difficult to describe, I’d never bother with therapy. I’ve escaped abusive situations by drugging myself nearly to death with pills both over the counter and prescribed. You aren’t really in charge when it happens. You’re usually the victim. I hate to put it like this but it feels like having an abusive man reprimanding me, bullying me into self destructive behavior stuck like a backseat driver in my subconscious mind. It’s very painful. It’s like being molested and videotaped from the inside out walking down a path with an unwelcome guest scrutinizing each move that you make micro-managing your privacy and personal life choices. Nothing like a bunch of booze and some blue pills to make him go away.

    I’m sorry for others with self destructive behavior and of course have been around others – choking on pills with bruises on their necks returning to homes to live with abusive men. I’ve tried to rescue other self destructive people and realized it’s impossible. I’ve watched friends with deteriorating psyches jump off of ledges to their own deaths. In the end, sometimes it’s better. You don’t know what it’s like to be in so much pain that you self-injure, puke up pills, turn on carbon monoxide lamps to make abusers who aren’t there anymore go away. Sometimes it’s better that way. Give your suicidal friend a break.

  • Karla R

    July 13th, 2019 at 11:33 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this article ” I cant seem to stop my self destructive behavior. I have suffered for years with self sabotage. I could not understand why I could not stop as if it was another force because I can clearly see that I am hurting myself but I cannot stop. Afraid of myself because I feel that I do not have any control on my destructive behavior. Reading this article has been very helpful I thought I was alone, I thought I was the only one that would self destruct to this extreme. Friends would ask me why do I do this and I could never give them an answer because I was puzzled just as much as much as they were.. I always have a tremendous amount of guilt and so I make decisions based on guilt and I do know one thing , any decisions made based on guilt , is never good.
    .Thank you from the bottom of my heart,

  • peter

    November 13th, 2019 at 2:23 AM

    I’m almost 58 years old and I’ve been battling a Avoidant Personality Disorder since I was no more than 5 years old. Possibly I was born with it? I was LITERALLY robbed of a life because I spent from the age of about 26 years to my current age with watching TV being my 90% of my social life. Essentially i was a social hermit. and yet the doctors I saw were completely fine with my situation…I could “get by” and I wasn’t getting worse which seemed to be all they cared about. The fact that I watched TV for 12-15 hours every day, practically 365 days a year didn’t phase them It’s possible they didn’t even know…which is appalling. For me there were no parties, dances, nightclubs, bars, hanging with friends….no picnics, vacations, relationships, or dating. No intimate relationships, sexual or otherwise. Now my GP says (essentially) that it’s my fault because he always asked if I was doing OK…and I didn’t complain so…… Oh and by the way, not being able to complain is a symptom of my illness. So it’s the sick person’s fault that he was ignored for 30+ years – all because he didn’t hound the doctors(s)? Frankly no one believed me when I told them I had zero friends and wasn’t capable of visiting anyone. Home is where I felt safe…secure. So 30+ years of TV watching and snacking and now I’m 320lbs…and I’m 5ft 11″ tall. And now in 2020(almost) what’s the advice of doctors? Eat more salads..cut back on carbs and eat more protein. THAT’S IT! Yet if I was dangerously underweight (anorexic) I’d get sympathy, understanding and psychological help…most likely in an eating disorder clinic. We know anorexia isn’t really about food. Telling them “Just eat” was pointless. They have a dysfunctional relationship with food. AS a morbidly obese person I know I too have a dysfunctional relationship with food……but fat people are just lazy, gluttonous, slovenly and unmotivated. Telling me to “Just eat less.” isn’t any more helpful to me than it is to anorexics. Some obese people have genuine eating disorders…but of course no one believes that. I call it Fat Prejudice. Assuming the worst about a group of people based on one thing – they are fat. And doctors know that diets rarely work…yet that’s the advice. Because diets don’t work for me I I looked into bariatric surgery. You have to go on a life long DIET after the surgery…and maybe before the surgery. AHHHHHH!!!!! If I could actually stick to a diet I wouldn’t need the surgery.

  • Ski Bum

    July 26th, 2021 at 6:57 AM

    This resonated. I too suffer from self destructive “implosions” of life. I am 51, with a great job, wife of 17 years, 2 wonderful kids. Stress, anger, guilt, shame, impulsivity, hidden porn addiction, lack of intimacy with wife and cyber affair have caused my downfall. My wife is here, literally asking me to choose and I am looking to run and go back down into that pit of darkness of self hate, shame and addiction, where my subconscious believes is “Safe”. How does one win the battle of good vs. destruction when it plays out within their mind?

  • Kevin

    October 29th, 2022 at 8:46 AM

    This speaks to me

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