Self-defeating personality disorder is categorized as an unspecified personality disorder, along with sadistic and passive-aggressive personality disorder, among others. People suffering from this condition will endure a great amount of unnecessary suffering. They will often go out of their way to ensure that their life is more difficult than it has to be.

For example, people suffering from full blown self-defeating personality disorder will make a conscious decision to not associate with people who have their best interest in mind. If they need someone to help them out financially, emotionally, or merely to help get them out of a minor bind, they will almost always refuse taking advice from people who will be able to actually help improve their situation.

Their refusal to get help from other people is just one of many different ways that someone with this condition will actively exercise self-defeating behavior.

Though self-defeating personality disorder was discussed in an appendix of the revised third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) in 1987, it was never formally admitted into the manual. Currently, in the DSM-5 (as of 2019), the diagnosis “personality disorder not otherwise specified” remains in use in the DSM-5.

Symptoms of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

People suffering from self-defeating personality disorder can expect to experience a great amount of distress and struggle throughout their lives as they will go out of their way to ensure they endure unnecessary hardships by purposely putting forth challenging obstacles in their lives that would have never manifested there organically.

They may greatly sacrifice things in their life that in no way relates to them experiencing a better life in the future. They may excessively sacrifice things to simply make their life more difficult. When loved ones and strangers offer to help them in any capacity, they will almost always reject such help as they would rather suffer. Doing so may greatly hinder their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships with others.

They will often reject opportunities that come their way, such as rejecting spending time with loved ones or rejecting a job promotion their boss wanted them to accept. Such self-defeating behaviors will leave them feeling very stressed and even hopeless. In fact, they may even actively pursue endeavors they know they will fail at or they may ask for help from someone who they know they cannot depend on.

Diagnosis according to the DSM III-R

A pervasive pattern of self-defeating behavior, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. The person may often avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences, be drawn to situations or relationships in which they will suffer, and prevent others from helping them, as indicated by at least five of the following:

  1. chooses people and situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment even when better options are clearly available
  2. rejects or renders ineffective the attempts of others to help them
  3. following positive personal events (e.g., new achievement), responds with depression, guilt, or a behavior that produces pain (e.g., an accident)
  4. incites angry or rejecting responses from others and then feels hurt, defeated, or humiliated (e.g., makes fun of spouse in public, provoking an angry retort, then feels devastated)
  5. rejects opportunities for pleasure, or is reluctant to acknowledge enjoying themselves (despite having adequate social skills and the capacity for pleasure)
  6. fails to accomplish tasks crucial to their personal objectives despite having demonstrated ability to do so, e.g., helps fellow students write papers, but is unable to write their own
  7. is uninterested in or rejects people who consistently treat them well
  8. engages in excessive self-sacrifice that is unsolicited by the intended recipients of the sacrifice

-The behaviors above do not occur exclusively in response to, or in anticipation of, being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused.

-The behaviors above do not occur only when the person is depressed.

Causes of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

There is no known cause of self-defeating personality disorder. However, genetics and one’s environment are likely to both play very significant roles in the development of this disorder. For example, someone who has a family history of mental illness, especially of personality disorders, may have a higher chance of developing self-defeating personality disorder. This is likely due to them also having a higher chance of having a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness.

If they were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only require that they experience some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown self-defeating personality disorder. If the traumatic event was emotionally damaging enough, it may be enough for them to develop this condition insofar as they have the genetic makeup to develop it.

Though we do not know what definitively causes self-defeating personality disorder, there is an overwhelming consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and one’s environment play very significant roles in the development of any given mental illness.

Self-Defeating Personality Disorder Treatment

People suffering from self-defeating personality disorder may greatly benefit from psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may be very beneficial as it can help the person suffering with this condition to better understand why it is that they think and behave the way they do. Unveiling such truths can have a huge impact and may entice the individual to want to further improve their cognition.

Medication may also be able to help people suffering from self-defeating personality disorder, but this is something that you will want to first discuss with your doctor. If someone has this disorder, as well as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or major depression, then they may greatly benefit by taking an antidepressant, for example. Be that as it may, these are things that should be discussed by you and your doctor.

If you think you may have self-defeating personality disorder or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist.