DBT for Self-Destructive Behaviors

People sometimes react to emotional stress by turning to destructive coping behaviors such as substance abuse, aggression, eating disorders, and other forms of self-harm. Adolescents typically use self-destructive behaviors to manage depression, anxiety, anger, stress, impulsivity and feelings of emptiness.

Understanding Self-Destructive Behaviors

There are many potential causes of self-destructive behaviors, but they often start with an emotional crisis, relationship conflict, or feeling overwhelmed by one’s emotions. At times of stress, at school or at work, people may feel intense emotions that they find extremely difficult to manage, such as shame, guilt, sadness, anger and fear. Self-destructive behaviors become ways of coping with these unbearably intense and negative emotions.

These feelings may become worse if other people invalidate them, by not responding with understanding and emotional support. Instead of asking for help, people learn to cope with the emotional pain by starting to hurt themselves in order to control their pain. This may include cutting or burning their skin, attempting suicide, or getting involved in risky activities such as drug and alcohol abuse.

The Cycle of Suffering

Continuing self-destructive behaviors can create a cycle of suffering, where people who respond to emotional pain and life problems in destructive ways end up with additional problems and feel worse than before. While they may feel temporarily in control, their emotional problems are not being solved but may become compounded with physical problems. Instead of working through the emotional pain and asking for help, the cycle of self-destructive behavior intensifies. This can endanger their lives in very real ways, or lead to long-term medical problems accompanied by pain and suffering.

How DBT Can Help

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches patients that this cycle of destructive coping behaviors can only be broken by turning on your rational mind and developing better problem-solving and coping mechanisms. The four DBT skills modules can help to break the cycle of suffering and enable patients to change their self-destructive behaviors and thought patterns.

  1. Mindfulness Skills teach you how to focus your mind on the here and now.
  2. Distress Tolerance is about accepting the current situation and finding ways to tolerate and survive a difficult moment without engaging in self-harming behavior.
  3. Emotion Regulation Skills help to identify and label current emotions, to identify obstacles to changing those emotions, to reduce emotional reactivity, and to learn how to change your mood by increasing positive emotions.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness teaches effective strategies for asking for what you need, saying no and setting limitations, and coping with interpersonal conflict.

Learning DBT skills gives people the tools to manage their intense emotions and cope when destructive urges arise. At Machon Dvir in Jerusalem, we encourage our patients to use these behavioral skills on a daily basis, in order to overcome their impulse to use destructive behaviors to cope with the challenges that they encounter in their day to day lives.

Talk to us today if you think that DBT therapy at the Dvir Institute in Israel could help you or a friend to break out of the cycle of emotional suffering and self-destructive behavior. (We do not offer emergency support – please seek immediate assistance from local medical professionals if you think that someone is endangering their life.)