3 Simple Steps to Stop Self Destructive Behavior

Do you often find yourself running in circles? You told yourself that you won’t drink, smoke, or procrastinate again – but then one day something goes wrong and you see yourself repeating the self destructive behavior.

The more you shut down tough emotions by drinking, smoking, isolating yourself, or practicing other self destructive behavior, the more intense your tough emotions will become. And the more you will want to numb them by self-destructive behavior.

This behavior can be explained with an interesting analogy. Numbing tough emotions with self-destructive behavior is like putting an airtight lid on a pot of boiling water. The more the water boils, the more you want to put the lid. And the longer you put the lid, the more the water boils. So the cycle keeps running until the pot explodes.

So how to break this cycle and stop self destructive behavior once and for all?

Take the lid off the pot and release the pressure little by little. How?

With mindfulness. But what does mindfulness really mean?

It is the ability to experience the present moment – including all the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without resisting anything that comes into your awareness.

Before we explain how mindfulness can help stop self-destructive behavior, keep these things in mind:

  1. You are not bad, or have a character flaw, if you engage in self destructive behavior. The emotional pain and cravings are often too much to tolerate for anyone.
  2. Self destructive behavior is more common than you think they are.

1. Bring Mindfulness to The Pain

We engage in self destructive behavior when we face painful situations. Mindfulness helps by making us able to experience the situation as it is without running away from it. In layman’s language, mindfulness takes the edge off and keeps us calm.

For example, if work makes you feel stressed and triggers you to smoke a cigarette, , the first step is to practice staying with the stress with mindfulness practice. You may have to take a couple breaths to calm yourself down. Once you practice being with the stress, gradually your threshold for stress will increase and you won’t get the urge to smoke that cigarette as often.

With mindfulness, we are able to feel the emotions and cravings without feeling controlled by them. We don’t become reactive, we can take in the painful experience and respond in a healthy manner.

2. Know Your Triggers to Rise Above Them

Another great strategy is to work on your triggers. But first you need to know what triggers you into acting in self-destructive ways. Is it approaching deadlines? Or is it your spouse? Whatever it is, you need to know it well.

The most practical way to know your triggers is to keep a diary. Note down every time you slip into the self-destructive mode. Write down the triggering situation, your feelings and your behavior.

For example, a sample diary entry may look like this:

Situation: Feeling alone, nobody trustworthy to talk to.

Feelings: Sadness, frustration.

Behavior: Drink or smoke to avoid the pain.

3. Consciously Change Your Response

Once you become aware of your triggers, the next step is to change your response to them. How? First, you need to calm yourself in the particular situation by soothing and centering yourself with some activity like deep breathing or distracting yourself with your favorite piece of music.

Then, in a calm state of mind, you need to practice a healthy response. For example, when you feel stressed because of work, you can calm down first by breathing deeply, and then start working because making progress is better than worrying about work.

Before:   Work -> Stressed -> Cigarette

After: Work -> Being with the stress -> Music to calm down -> Start Working Because Worrying Doesn’t Help

Once you change your response, the old diary entry may look like this:

Situation: Feeling alone, nobody to talk to.

Feelings: Sad at first, but calmed myself by listening to good music.

Behavior: Called up an old friend whom I felt hesitant to call earlier.

or: Enrolled in a class to meet like-minded people.

Final Thoughts

Getting over self destructive behavior is tough but indeed possible. Many people try to quit smoking or drinking but fail on the very next day or week. You need to be compassionate with yourself and praise yourself for each step you make towards progress.

The silver lining is that you CAN stop self destructive behavior one step at a time. And once you practice the steps of mindfulness and changing your response, your frequency of engaging in destructive habits will decrease and it will become the fuel for your progress.

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