Self-Defeating and Self-Destructive Behaviours


The narcissist often engages in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours. Can you tell me more about it?


We can group these behaviours according to their underlying motivation:

The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviours

These are intended to inflict punishment on the narcissist and to provide him thus with instant relief of his anxiety.

This is very reminiscent of a compulsive-ritualistic behaviour. The person harbors guilt. It could be an "ancient" guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social" guilt. In early life, he internalized and introjected voices of meaningful others - parents, authority figures, peers - that consistently and convincingly and from positions of authority informed him that he is no good, guilty, deserving of punishment or retaliation, or corrupt.

His life is thus transformed into an on-going trial. The constancy of this trial, the never adjourning tribunal is the punishment. It is Kafka's "trial": meaningless, undecipherable, never-ending, leading to no verdict, subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided by capricious judges.

Such a narcissist frustrates his deepest desires and drives, obstructs his own efforts, alienates his friends and sponsors, provokes figures in authority to punish, demote, or ignore him, actively seeks and solicits disappointment, failure, or mistreatment and relishes them, incites anger or rejection, bypasses or rejects opportunities, or engages in excessive self-sacrifice.


In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis, describe the diagnosis of "Masochistic or Self-Defeating Personality Disorder", found in the appendix of the DSM III-R but excluded from the DSM IV. While the narcissist is rarely a full-fledged masochist, many a narcissist exhibit some of the traits of this personality disorder.

The Extracting Behaviours

People with Personality Disorders (PDs) are very afraid of real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy is formed not only within a couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighbourhood, with friends, while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for emotional involvement, which is the result of interactions in constant and predictable (safe) proximity. PDs interpret intimacy (not DEPENDENCE, but intimacy) as strangulation, the snuffing of freedom, death in installments. They are terrorized by it. The self-destructive and self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundation of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship. NPDs (narcissists), for instance, feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these "chains". They feel they broke a siege, that they are liberated, free at last.

The Default Behaviours

We are all afraid of new situations, new possibilities, new challenges, new circumstances and new demands. Being healthy, being successful, getting married, becoming a mother, or someone's boss - are often abrupt breaks with the past. Some self-defeating behaviours are intended to preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds of change, to inertially avoid opportunities.

next:   Narcissists and Chemical Imbalances

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 28). Self-Defeating and Self-Destructive Behaviours, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: July 13, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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