When You or Someone You Love Struggles with Self-Destruction

Face it, self-destruction is an ugly topic.

It’s not easy to admit that you or someone you love struggles with it.

A huge predisposing factor for self-destructive tendencies is adverse childhood experiences. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote What Lies Beneath: Could It Be Childhood Trauma?, in which I refer to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs).

This ACE study demonstrates the higher the number of adverse experiences in childhood, the higher the risk for poor mental and physical health in adulthood. It’s also important to keep this in mind

Incidents of abuse are never stand-alone events. And for each additional adverse experience reported, the toll in later damage increases. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, The Body Keeps the Score



What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?*

There are the obvious or well-recognized forms of self-destruction.

  • Cutting
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

But, there are also less recognized or subtle forms.

  • Difficulty maintaining employment
  • Financial mismanagement
  • Inability to recognize unhealthy relationships
  • Inability to maintain intimate relationships
  • Avoidance of interpersonal conflict
  • Difficulty facing problems or decisions

Both categories are damaging to the individual and to those who love them.

My story

I have struggled with self-destruction. I meet several of the criteria of the ACE study. My biological father was an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser. Before the age of six, my parents divorced and my dad died suddenly. To make matters worse, no one grieved or talked about him again.

Knowing what I do now, it’s no surprise I struggled with depression, anxiety and an undiagnosed eating disorder from my early teens into my thirties.

I was fortunate. Eventually, I got the help I needed. I grieved and processed the events of my childhood and made significant changes. I no longer struggle.

When you live with someone who struggles

I’m in a different position today. As spouse to a survivor, I see him struggle with his issues of self-destruction: decision-making, avoidance of conflict, and difficulties with relationships.

I’ve lived with self-destruction and I live with someone who still struggles with it.

What do you do when you or someone you love struggles with self-destructive behaviors?*

Please remember, these are the things I’ve found helpful. The intent of this post is not to provide professional advice. Many of these behaviors require professional intervention. Please access local resources.

Seek help

If you are able, access professional, trauma-informed therapy for yourself and your loved one. If not, find an agency that offers to counsel at a reduced or free rate.  In Winnipeg, check with Klinic Community Health.

Access peer support: in person or online.

My personal recommendation for survivors and supporters is Trauma Recovery University. Its focus is on survivors, but I have found a warm and welcoming community for supporters too. You’ll find a weekly live stream Youtube with twitter chat, a library of over 160 Youtube videos, Facebook groups (secret), and peer support.

Take a break.

It’s okay to take time away. This can look like a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. We have done variations of all of it.

Know your limits and talk about them

Know when you have reached your limit. Have an open discussion about changes that need to happen if you are to stay healthy. Fortunately, my partner is committed to recovery.

Seek education and information

As I’ve said before, learn about trauma and its impact on you and your loved one.

Yes, self-destruction is an ugly topic. But understanding past trauma, accessing resources and getting support go a long way to overcoming it.


ACEs Too High

To determine your ACE score. Take the test here.

*The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD

Letting go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing by Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C,  President and Founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education (I haven’t read this, but I heard Ms. Ferentz on a podcast on the topic.)






2 thoughts on “When You or Someone You Love Struggles with Self-Destruction

  1. Hi Heather,

    I’m so sorry about your childhood events and so glad you got the help you needed. Congrats on all you are doing helping others with your blog and as you continue to travel the journey in your marriage. I married late in life and now understand a lot of the why (my ACE score is zero and it’s been more about the subtle attachment wounds). Relationships take work, commitment and willingness to look at ourselves and keep finding the truth. It’s also turned out to be more connecting than I realized existed and a huge resource for me.

    I just looked up Trauma Recovery University and started in on their first video on youtube – what a wonderful team of women! Thx for that reference!

    1. Veronique, thank you so much! Recovery from trauma is possible. Of course, it was a much more involved story than I could share here, but I am grateful for the resources and perseverance I had to become healthy. Whether you marry as a young or ‘mature’ person, relationships take work and commitment. It’s helpful to have a partner to support and undergo the journey with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *