World Mental Health Day 2022: Habits that ignite self-sabotaging actions, tips to conquer self-destructive behaviour

Updated on Oct 06, 2022 01:46 PM IST

Self–sabotaging behaviours directly or indirectly harms an individual and undermines his/her longstanding goals. It can be challenging for people unaware of their tendencies. Ahead of World Mental Health Day 2022, here's understanding habits that ignite self-sabotaging actions, tips to overcome it

World Mental Health Day 2022: Habits that ignite self-sabotaging actions, tips to conquer self-destructive behaviour(Anna Shvets)
World Mental Health Day 2022: Habits that ignite self-sabotaging actions, tips to conquer self-destructive behaviour(Anna Shvets)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

Self-sabotage, also known as self-destructive behaviour, undermines happiness and often interferes with our ability to achieve our desired goal. Self-sabotaging patterns can be challenging for people unaware of their tendencies as researches show that 40% of our daily actions are based on our habits and not on conscious decisions.

Most of the time we are running on this autopilot mode which we do not even realise and have no clue about how to turn it off. We very well understand why a particular behavior is bad for us but we still end up doing the same thing again and again.

It almost seems like the rational, logical, thinking part of your brain cannot change your habits, as if it's not listening to you and indeed that's true as neuroscientists explain that habits are governed by a deeply located part of the brain called basal ganglia, which can prompt your brain to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine when we do anything pleasurable. That's how pleasure-based habits are formed.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle ahead of World Mental Health Day 2022, Pragati Goyal, Lead Clinical Psychologist at Lissun, explained, “When you do something over and over, which is followed up by a pleasurable outcome, there is a burst of dopamine in your brain, which strengthens the neuronal circuit for the behaviour. In a way, your actions/behaviors can become hardwired in your brain. So even when you are not engaging in those behaviors, dopamine can create a craving for it. This explains why it is hard to break a habit. In a way, our brains are working against us, by keeping us craving the things we want to strongly resist a behavior and overcome bad habits.”

Talking about a few common forms of self-sabotaging behaviour, Richa Vashista, Chief Mental Health Expert at AtEase, blamed it on procrastination, avoiding responsibilities, forgetting commitments, refusal to plan, emotional eating and indulging in substance abuse. She revealed, “Self-sabotage often stems from low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and related negative emotions, which are continually reinforced by resulting failure. People self-sabotage when they are afraid of success, failure and don't feel worthy or deserving of what they have, so they subconsciously work to destroy it, which then validates the negative thoughts they have about themselves. Self-sabotage is a protective mechanism where the mind tries to shield itself from what is perceived as unfamiliar, unsafe, different, or dangerous. It could be driven by fear of what others think or the angst of making a life-changing decision.”

She advised, “While we work to conquer this trait, it is vital to take steps one at a time. Often, self-introspection, engaging in self-supporting behaviour, challenging negative thoughts and beliefs held about oneself, and inculcating positive self-talk can help in feeling realistic. Accepting flaws and strengths, and communicating with people around us help us develop positive thoughts and opinions about ourselves. Seeking professional help from a mental health expert can assist in identifying complex thoughts that one may not be conscious of and help gain acknowledgment of emotions and perception.”

According to Dr Neerja Birla, Mental Health Activist, Founder and Chairperson of Mpower, self–sabotaging behaviours are behavioural patterns which directly or indirectly harms an individual and undermines his/her longstanding goals. Such patterns could be grouped as under –

A. Overt: like alcohol or drug abuse, self-inflicting injuries, irregular eating patterns etc.

B. Covert: like procrastination, lack of assertiveness and self-doubt which in turn increases chances of failure.

She highlighted, “Self-sabotaging behaviour increase the risk of developing mental health disorders. Now the question is why one person will indulge in self-sabotaging behaviour? The most common causes behind self-sabotaging behaviours are: low self-esteem, impulsiveness, difficulties in emotional regulation, avoidance which is used as a stress dealing mechanism, negative self-talk, difficulties in setting boundaries for themselves etc. Most of the time self-sabotaging behaviours are unconscious in nature and individuals fails to recognise the detrimental behaviour patterns.”

To deal with self-sabotaging behaviour, she suggested that the ideal steps would be:

A. Recognising the self-sabotaging behaviour pattern

B. Recognising the emotions and thoughts behind those self-sabotaging behaviour

C. Working on changing those thoughts and emotions

D. Developing an alternative behaviour pattern.

Dr Neerja Birla asserted, “Through proper support and expert intervention one can correct and modify one’s own patterns. It requires one to work on one’s own fears and insecurities, managing one’s emotions in a better manner and developing a more productive alternative behaviour pattern. Some self-help ways like - being positive, embracing self - motivation, indulging in self - care and building emotional strength thus being able to say NO when required along with doing activities that they like or want to learn can help to nurture themselves more than self-sabotage.”

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