(Part 2- Reducing Self destructive tendencies)
Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 5-11-2022
Following up from the last blog post, you may have been able to gain some qualitative findings on your own self destructive tendencies. Some may have been very obvious, and other tendencies may have come at a bit more of a surprise to you. After all, if something is our normal, it won’t necessarily feel abnormal. Often times, humans slip into patterns of instant gratification as well (even non traumatized people). This means that after we develop self-destructive patterns, sometimes we may get the dopamine rush associated with the habit, making it all the more hard to quit. If something is proven 10 times out of 10 to make you feel really good while you are hurting, it makes it that much harder to stop doing it. The first part of reducing self-destructiveness is to first admit to yourself that you are in fact, self-destructive at times. Then, have the unconditional acceptance of understanding that this can happen to anyone, you’re not a ‘bad’ person, and it’s not about blaming yourself. Often times these patterns start out subtle and grow with time/ trauma/ grief/ stress and more.
From the first blog, I will relist the Self destructive categories for reference:
- Self-inflicted Verbal abuse – Self Neglect – Self Sabotage – Heavy drug abuse
- Compulsive behaviors -Abusive relationships -Binge/ restrict/ purge cycles
- Non suicidal self-directed violence – Suicide attempts
Insight into Self destructive patterns:
- I am, in fact, self-destructive when I engage in the following activities or rituals: _________________________________________________.
- I tend to do _______________________ when I am feeling ____________________.
- I want to stop doing/ engaging in _________________________ but I find it hard.
- Even though I know it’s bad for me, I typically _____________________ because the pro is that I get (to) _____________________________________________________.
- Some replacement coping activities have worked for me occasionally…. This includes: _____________________________________________________________________.
- The long term consequences of some of my Self destructive habits include: _____________________________________________________________________.
After we gain the insight of what we are doing, the next step is a commitment to change. Quite honestly, this can be one of the longest processes of all. It’s quite fascinating working with individuals and therapy and seeing as they go through what mental health experts call ‘the stages of change’. What often starts with denial turns into an awareness, and from this people move through precontemplation, to contemplating change, preparing, to then taking action. And then lastly, maintenance of the change. From my experience, contemplation is one of the harder stages for people from a mental health perspective. And the, maintenance is difficult from a behavioral and habitual perspective. Contemplation can be time consuming becauase it requires us to run through an extreme amount of emotions in our mind. There is anxiety, depression and grief and maybe even anger.
Common self-defeating thoughts during Contemplation of change:
- I might not succeed
- Giving up this habit of _____________ will mean that I will suffer through ___________.
- I’ve tried before, 1-it did not work…. or 2- it was not worth it.
- Will it be worth it?
- Do I deserve to feel better?
- What’s the point?
The Commitment to Change
Commitment to changing self-destructive patterns requires us to start caring about ourselves. How do you learn to care about yourself when no one else did? How do you learn the self-care habits when no one taught you? How do you soothe your emotions through the urge to want a heavy release so that you can go back to life as usual? The commitment to change means a requirement to sit in the distressful emotions you will inevitably experience while you are in the process of change. It means that when you decide NOT to binge eat, you must sit with a void. It means, stop inflicting pain on your body, so that you can deal with the internal pain. It means to stop getting so high, and face sobriety. It means to stop chasing that asshole that keeps hurting you, and face being alone. What does all of the above have in common? Yes, you must face the emotions that come up. Soothe the emotions that come up without all of the temporary distractions that will, in the end, NEVER heal you. And worst, they will make you feel worse in the long run. The commitment to change means to care about yourself enough to not want to continue the life you have as is, because you know it hurts you and you’re tired of it.
As ironic as it sounds to many people, self-destructive acts and patterns, are in fact, coping mechanisms. They are harmful ones. To lower harmful coping mechanisms, we must replace them with (ideally) healthier ones. It is not realistic, practical, or helpful for anyone’s mental health to stop a person’s coping mechanisms and not give them the outlets that can help replace them. Sometimes, no coping is worse than harmful coping! Here’s an example list of healthier coping ideas: (Many of which help my patients)
-Reading -Writing -Workouts -Talking -Crafts -Nature walks -Camping
-Cooking -Learning -Exploring/ Travel -Bath/ Shower -Meeting new people
-Daydreaming -Shopping (with respect to budget) -Swimming -Games
-Phone calls -Spiritual outlets -Music -TV -Peace & quiet -Comedy
-Talk therapy -fishing -Healthy eating -visiting a pet store -walking barefoot
-Organizing -Coffee/ tea time -Dating -Shooting -Massages
-Sky/ star gazing -gardening -Puzzles -computer time -Photography
-Pets -Get together/ parties -Amusement parks -Libraries -museums
-Meditating -Essential oils -Decorating -Mentoring/ coaching -Baking
Concluding Thoughts: Between inactivity & burnout
A common issue I see with the majority of people is that at some point we get into an overdoing and underdoing situation when it comes to our daily habits/ activities. We may have decreased motivation and experience depressive ruts that lower our productivity. Then, we may feel shame and frustration which leads to overdoing to a point of burnout. Then the cycle will start all over again. When people are picking out coping tools I also remind them to create a routine/ schedule that is sustainable, vs a routine that will lead to burnout and shame. A balanced schedule allows for basic needs all the way to some self-affiliation needs. A day where there is some time set aside for work, some time for social time, some time for solitude and rest. When the urge to self destruct comes up, it’s important to take the time to recognize what is triggering the urge, and meeting the need accordingly. If the need involves alleviating depression, there are healthy copoing outlets for depression. If the need is that you feel lonely, there are healthy ways to socialize. If the need is to alleviate your anxiety, again, there are healthier ways to reduce anxiety. The cure may never be there, but a solid maintenance plan will help reduce the symptoms over time.