Self-Destructive Behavior, Part IV

When you habitually work to avoid stress, you risk becoming weak, passive, and dependent on others; your self-esteem suffers; you become self-critical, and vulnerable to serious problems like depression. At this point, you may resort to self-defeating – even destructive – coping actions that damage your mental and physical well-being. Therapist Michael Church has identified four self-destructive types: Direct-Active (Blog entry 11/5/21), Indirect-Active (Blog entry 3/4/22), Direct Passive (Blog entry 4/15/22), and Indirect-Passive. The Indirect-Passive type includes those who are dependent and fail to establish a positive and stable identity. Their self-concept is fragile, and they remain child-like in functioning. They often remain in chaotic, abusive and unsatisfying relationships, even when they have the means to get out. They tend to excuse and justify the abuse received by others and rationalize why they do not change their lives. They readily allow others to take advantage of them and even abuse them and those around them.  

Stephanie’s parents both died before she was 10. Growing up, her primary parental figure was an aunt who met her practical needs, but not her emotional and social needs. Stephanie recalled feeling lonely and alienated as a child and adolescent. In her teen years she developed chronic anxiety that was probably due to the loss and abandonment associated with losing both parents. Simply put, she suffered from separation anxiety and insecure attachment as a child.

Her anxiety persisted into college and beyond. In college she developed a close relationship with a classmate, and after graduation they married and had a child. They both worked, but Stephanie burdened herself with work responsibilities, so much so that her performance often suffered. As her high anxiety and stress became connected with her work and her marriage, she sought counseling on and off, and took various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications with limited success. Due to her continuously high stress levels, she also developed medical problems that lowered her quality of life and further strained her marriage.

Her daughter graduated from college and was accepted to medical school. Suddenly, Stephanie felt purposeless because her “child” no longer needed her. Adding to her stress, her husband became friendly with a woman who was perceived as a threat by Stephanie, and the marriage slowly deteriorated. One day, home alone with her thoughts and anxieties, she committed suicide. Indirect-Passive types rarely harm themselves, and her suicide is somewhat of a mystery. Her chronic anxiety and chronic medical conditions, however, together with marital issues and lack of purpose, appear to have caused a psychological tsunami that she could not handle.

Stephanie suffered significant adverse effects during childhood that undoubtedly caused her chronic anxiety as an adult. It was difficult for her to enjoy life and depression was never far from her door. She never developed a stable and positive identity, which led to low self-confidence and goals with minimal sense of purpose. A life without meaning and direction is difficult for anyone, but especially for someone with her physical and mental health issues. How could she be expected to deal with significant stressors without sufficient purpose to deal with such suffering? Her suicide suggests she gave into self-defeating and self-destructive tendencies rather than turn her negative emotions and thoughts into constructive and growth-oriented patterns.

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