How to Confront a Loved One About Their Self-Destructive Behaviors

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Addiction

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Nobody wants to be self-destructive or to cause harm to themselves. When someone is engaging in self-destructive behaviors, it comes from a place where they are trying to find relief or even pleasure for themselves, but their attempt is an ineffective or harmful means. If you know or suspect that a loved one is engaging in self-destructive behaviors, it may be time to find a way to help.

What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

Also known as dysregulated behaviors, self-destructive behaviors are when a person engages in a behavior to cause emotional or physical self-harm. Some self-destructive behaviors are:

  • Self-injury such as cutting, scratching (to the point of bleeding), hair pulling, burning, biting, or hitting themselves
  • Binge eating
  • Self-starving
  • Excessive substance misuse
  • Impulsive and risky sexual behavior
  • Constantly belittling and putting themselves down
  • Depriving oneself to sleep
  • Seeking toxic relationships or staying with someone abusive to them
  • Constantly changing themselves to please others
  • Isolating themselves
  • Compulsive gambling or shopping
  • Intense procrastination
  • Attempting suicide

People who struggle with self-destructive behaviors can differ dramatically. Some choose to engage in some or all of these behaviors. The frequency and severity vary from person to person, but engaging in any of these behaviors for any duration can cause severe emotional and physical damage.

Where Drives Them to Engage in Self-Destructive Behaviors?

As human beings, people engage in behaviors to satisfy a physical or psychological need. For some, their instincts help them by finding healthy solutions; for others, their instincts are misguided by trauma or mental illness.

According to The Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, self-destructive behaviors are significantly correlated to mental illness and childhood abuse. A person’s self-help skills are shaped during their childhood and how their caregivers met their emotional needs. When a person’s needs have historically not been met, their instincts are shaped to reject their own needs leaving them to pursue poor solutions for their problems.

Your loved one is not engaging in this behavior because they don’t want to be healthy or don’t want to improve. They just truly feel like they are unable to achieve their hopes and dreams or that they are worthy of achieving them.

Helping Your Loved One

Everyone wants to see our loved ones thrive, and when they’re hurting, we want to do everything possible to help them. One of the most important things to remember is that no matter how much you love someone or how hard you try to help them, you can’t force them to stop engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Even when you plead with them, and they still do it, this is not a testament to how much they love you — it is challenging for them to stop engaging in self-harming behavior.

Our loved ones want to help themselves, and they want to be helped; they are just struggling to find the right way to do so. Self-sabotage and self-harm tend to come from a lack of self-love. One of the best ways to help those with low self-esteem or who lack self-love is to show them that they are loveable and they matter.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help you help your loved one:


  • Don’t give your loved one ultimatums like, “If you don’t quit cutting, you have to move out.”
  • Don’t guilt them by saying things like, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be hurting yourself.”
  • Don’t use shame or humiliation.
  • Don’t take their actions personally. This behavior has nothing to do with you.
  • Don’t constantly remind them that they are defective, sick, or that they need help.
  • Don’t obsess over their behaviors or neglect your personal needs or other family members such as other children.
  • Don’t become their therapist. You can love them and listen to them, but you can’t replace the guidance from a trained professional.


  • Do remind your loved ones that you love them and care about their mental and physical well-being.
  • Do show them compassion.
  • Do listen to them without judgment.
  • Do hear them out. If your loved one is willing to talk to you, chances are they just want to be heard. They aren’t looking for you to fix them, just hear them and show them support.
  • Do remind them that they are worthy of love and support.
  • Do learn about the behaviors your loved one is engaging in to help you understand the behavior and the type of support you can give.
  • Do seek support for yourself that will help you safely process your feelings and to set and hold healthy boundaries. Remember, you can’t help anyone if you’re not mentally or physically strong enough either.
  • Do know and accept that you have the right to end a relationship with someone who isn’t healthy for you. You can do your best to help your loved ones, but you cannot make them change.

Watching our loved ones engage in self-destructive behaviors is painful. It’s heartbreaking and something no one wants to endure. Unfortunately, sometimes our loved ones are hurting and engage in self-harm behaviors as a means to relieve themselves, at least for a short duration. Learning why our loved ones engage in these behaviors can be extremely helpful. It’s important for us to know what we can say or do to help support our loved ones and to help ourselves maneuver through these uncharted waters. If you have a loved one looking for a professional to manage their self-destructive behavior, or you need assistance helping to support yourself and your loved ones, reach out to Sober Life today. Our team is equipped to help you through this difficult time. If you’re not located in the San Diego area, we can still help. Call Sober life today to learn about our different options. Call Sober Life now at (619) 542-9542.

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