Common Self-Defeating Behaviors

People who were abused or neglected as children were, in effect injured by trauma. This can show up as self-defeating behaviors, and those listed here are common for people with Childhood PTSD. When you learn the basic tools for healing dysregulation and other neurological aspects of trauma, it’s easier to change these negative patterns. Don’t be discouraged! Healing is possible.

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Neglect of body

Inappropriate or shabby clothes, poor hygiene, neglect of physical exercise. Avoidance of medical and dental care or self-harm.


Difficulty seeing one’s own role in problems, victim thinking, bitterness, slandering others, belief that all problems are the result of a country, a race, racism itself, sexism, foreigners, a political party, religion, lack of religion, certain foods, your parents, etc.

Black & white thinking

Being drawn to extreme views, groups, authority figures, and belief systems. Often outraged at the news. Loss of freedom to disagree or step back from conflict. Dominating others, slandering others, cutting off contact with friends, family or people outside your group.

Numbing with substances

Relieving stress with alcohol, drugs. Taking more or different medication than prescribed. See also food, media below.

Addictive use of food

Carbohydrate binging, unhealthy weight, eating disorders, obsession with “correct” eating.

Addictive use of media/entertainment

Use of TV, social media, internet and games enough to interfere with sleep, meals, daily routine, family responsibilities, work, school, and finances.


Exaggerating, hiding important personal truths or preferences, lying, stealing, infidelity, tax evasion, or other illegal activity.

Work problems

Chronic adversarial relationships with employers & coworkers, unfulfilling work, under-earning, neglect of learning/skill development, periods of unemployment, suing or getting sued.


Frequent arguments, falling out with friends, neighbors, partners, and family. Ranting, rage, mistreating others, revenge, violence.

Attraction to troubled partners/friends

Repeatedly drawn into relationships that turn out to be abusive, controlling, and damaging to other relationships, family members and finances. Claiming others are abusive, narcissistic, etc. but staying in the relationship. Rationalizing why staying is necessary.

Unfulfilling romantic life

No dating relationships, staying in bad relationships, creating/staying in a sexless or loveless partnership.

Abuse of Sexuality

Overly sexualized appearance and conduct. Loss of dignity, emotional security or the ability to be “real” around sex and relationship dynamics, doing things one doesn’t want to do, or that make one feel ashamed. Unwanted pregnancy or compulsive behavior around sex.

Fantasy (romantic, financial)

Fleeing reality when things are tough, not really “here,” not in touch with reality. Failure to take reasonable action, huge, unrealistic expectations and promises, inflating the importance of relationships, events, personal attributes, and prospects. Obsession, stalking, neglect of health, work, family.

Avoidance of people, responsibility, participation

Isolating, “social anorectic,” can sometimes do this as a couple or group, avoiding all others.

Accruing debt

Living beyond means to pay for a home, car, therapy, etc. Growth of debt, gambling, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness, vague sense of the path toward solvency.

Repeating traumatic patterns

Seeming inability to detect trouble or step back when trouble appears;  relapse into a traumatized state, triggering deepening of depression, rage, collapse, or reversion to old behaviors.


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