Self-harming and self-defeating behaviors take many forms – from habits that sabotage goals to cutting of the skin. Anyone can engage in these behaviors, but teens are especially susceptible, especially in times of great stress and emotional upheaval.
Why are self-harming behaviors so common? They can be a form of release during intense outpouring of emotion. They can give the sufferer feelings of control: They may not be able to change the intense situation, but “at least” they can choose to feel a certain way.
Cutting is one of the most common self-harming behaviors practiced by teens. Up to 46% of high school students have engaged in self-injury like cutting or burning the skin. Other behaviors such as picking, pulling, scratching, or even self-tattooing can also be involved.
Self-Defeating Behaviors Don’t Always Include Physical Pain
Activities that bring physical harm aren’t the only form of self-defeating behavior. Psychologists have studied self-defeating behavior in terms of any pervasive pattern of actions that sabotage a person and prevent reaching his or her goals.
The person is often unaware of the pattern, but frustrated by its outcomes. In fact, self-defeating patterns are frequently seen among people trying to engage in healthy, goal-directed activities.
For example, a teen who wants to get better grades might study for several hours a night. Staying up all night to study could be a self-defeating behavior if it makes it harder to pay attention in class – leading to lower grades.
This is naturally upsetting – and those feelings are intensified among teens.
If self-defeating behavior persists, it can leave people feeling helpless – like nothing they do can affect their situation. This can be truly devastating for teens, who are much more likely than adults to adopt a self-concept focused on their perceived shortcomings.
Teens may feel like they “can’t do anything right” – and even stop trying.
Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviors
Some researchers once believed self-defeating personality disorder would grow into a diagnosis explaining why some people struggle with self-defeat. This has become less mainstream as care professionals recognize anyone can experience self-defeating behavior now and then.
The key is to notice them and substitute healthy coping strategies.