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10 Symptoms of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

  • Overwhelmed = Escape 

    Aloneness = Cling

    Fearfulness = Control

    The majority of damage imposed on our psychological health stems from how we choose to behave based on the triggers we’ve developed from our childhoods, etc.  It’s the current behavior that needs to be regulated in order to heal.


    Self-Defeating Disorder or SDPD: What is it Exactly?

    Self-Defeating Personality Disorder (SDPD) is often used interchangeably with masochistic personality disorder. The term masochist may seem confusing. This is because it is usually associated with sexual deviant type behaviors.

    However, both terms represent the same broad range of self-defeating behaviors and patterns. These self-injuring type symptoms basically form the clinical foundation of self-defeating disorder. 

    It may surprise you to know that in 1994, self-defeating personality disorder was removed from being a formally recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The authors are said to have removed it because of the need for further study and political conflicts. 

    SDPD basically falls under the heading of generalized personality disorder. Those with personality disorders (PDs) tend to exhibit certain characteristics such as immaturity and fear of intimacy, emotional connections found in community settings, and even simple work relationships. 

    What is the Cause of Self-Defeating Behaviors and Patterns?

    In many of the people who display self-defeating behaviors, we see evidence of childhood trauma or loss. Other causes are centered around the inability to discontinue harmful repetitive cycles and behaviors. 

    “Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.”
    ― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

    It begs the question of why someone would continue even through difficult situations? 

    The answer is simply that a person who continually chooses to engage in a cycle of continued harmful cycles has more than likely learned maladaptive behaviors in order to combat high levels of stress. 

    The 10 Major Clinical Symptoms of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder 

    1. The person often has a compulsive need to choose people and circumstances that are known sources of drama, pain disappointment, or bad treatment. How many times have you seen someone who’s always in battle, conflict or being victimized by the company or environments they choose to be in. It’s as if we are 

    2. Being resistant to  or rejects opportunities of help and assistance. They also refuse any positive interventions that may benefit them or their situation. 

    3. A person with self-defeating behaviors may have adverse behavior or depressive episodes following personal events that should be rewarding or positive -  like a new achievement, or birthday party. 

    4. It is common to expect people with self-harm related episodes to incite anger or rejection. Following the unfavorable responses from others, they often feel hurt, defeated, or humiliated. (e.g., they may choose to pick a fight with their spouse, then feel hurt at the outcome.)

    5. They don’t have the ability to recognize pleasurable opportunities and reject them. They show a reluctance to acknowledge enjoying themselves (despite having adequate social skills and the capacity for pleasure)

    6. This person often fails to accomplish tasks crucial to their personal objectives although they typically have a superior skillset that would allow them to do them easily. A good example might be an A student who writes the papers of other students, but neglects or is unable to complete their own papers. 

    7. They are uninterested or reject people who consistently treat them well. Even in intimacy they gravitate to relationships that require little emotional investment. Almost as if cowering at the thought of true and healing love. 

    8. They engage in self-sacrificing behaviors and position themselves as if there isn’t any other choice but to self-sacrifice. 

    9. A person may choose to forgo pleasurable activities or find ways to sabotage them. 

    10. Self neglect

    “Having a low opinion of yourself is not 'modesty.' It's self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not 'egotism.' It's a necessary precondition to happiness and success.”

    ― Bobbe Sommer


    Common Treatments for Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

    Medical therapies may vary, as there isn’t a direct go-to pharmaceutical intervention for a self-defeating personality disorder diagnosis. Many psychologists and medical professionals choose to incorporate prescription medications to try and manage the wide range of symptoms associated with self-defeating disorders. 

    It is widely acknowledged that there isn’t a one size fit all approach to personality disorders. Studies indicate a diverse approach using combination type therapies work together for improving patient outcomes.

    Some of the more common non-pharmaceutical treatments include:

    • Counseling/Psychotherapy
    • Shadow Work 
    • Therapy Groups 
    • Accountability Partners


    Recognizing the Patterns of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

    Those who display self-defeating personality disorder patterns may exhibit the following behavioral patterns which also contribute to the overall clinical symptoms mentioned above. They include:

    Avoidance: This translates to avoiding any source of pain or discomfort. It can be best seen in examples of not interacting or engaging with certain people on purpose to avoid painful conversations or circumstances. It could be show up on the refusal to attend functions, wellness appointments, or other planned commitments.

    Perfection: A person with low self-esteem may go above and beyond to do things 100% perfectly. This behavior of perfection helps the person with low self-esteem feel that everything will be okay. This is sabotaging behavior because the amount of stress of trying to do everything perfectly cannot be overcome. 

    Hiding: This means a person will feel ashamed and hide behaviors from themselves or others. They may try to cover up their identity, change parts of themselves, hide a major part of their personality to avoid judgment or shame. 

    Passive: When people are passive, they allow themselves to become mistreated without ever standing up for themselves. Physical manifestations of passive behavior may look like constant toe-tapping, staying in the corner of a room, refusal to speak although clearly having something to say, crossed arms, and apprehension to engage in confrontations. 

    Attention-seeking: This is an attempt to gain either positive or negative attention. It can be either. There is a monumental effort made by a person to gain favor or approval. 

    Aggressive: There is often a display of aggression to deflect against low self-esteem or poor body image. A person can become very defensive and lash out against others in both verbal confrontations and physical ones. Danger is a real possibility with people who show aggressive behavior patterns. 


    Conclusion and Recap of Points of Interest

    In learning about Self-Defeating Personality Disorder, we discovered the clinical definition of the disorder and about the decision to exclude the diagnosis from the DSM. We also discovered how the causes are linked to trauma, loss, or early childhood dysfunctional learning patterns to adapt to stress.

    Additionally, the behaviors and the relationship to masochistic or patterns of self-harm tend to be recurrent and benefit most from combination type therapies. 

    What we know about self-defeating personality disorder isn't prevalent in any sex, age, or gender. It can affect anyone; however, it isn’t a life sentence. Overcoming self-sabotaging behaviors can be achieved through professional help and consistent effort.

    Do you know someone with SDPD? Are you wondering what type of treatments are available to you? 

    We encourage you to share your knowledge and experiences with our Life Tribe members. By keeping the dialogue open, we know it can possibly help others. 

    Thank you.



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