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In one way or another, we all show signs of maladaptive behavior, but only to a limited degree. Maladaptive behavior is a condition that may happen to anyone at some point in life. For instance, children may throw temper tantrums, grownups may yell or toss objects when furious, and your boss might lash out at you on a bad day. Maladaptive behaviors are a widespread coping method among people of all ages, even though they are not necessarily healthy or useful.

A maladaptive personality disorder is a condition characterized by actions or behavioral patterns that are problematic since they cause individuals to respond to challenges ineffectively and frequently in deeply upsetting ways. They could include passive-aggressiveness, resentment, and avoidance, among many others, and inhibit people from discovering healthy methods to adjust to situations. With proper treatment, however, a person can find a way to deal with or transform these behaviors.

A person develops maladaptive behaviors when they learn to deal with stressful situations and events in counterproductive and problematic ways. Despite this being a characteristic shared by all maladaptive behaviors, circumstances and experiences can vary substantially. There are maladaptive behaviors in some or all contexts that comprise a person’s life, including the family, the workplace, social interactions, and the community.

To comprehend maladaptive behaviors, it is essential to recognize that every behavior serves a function. This is commonly referred to as the behavior “function”.  When individuals are involved in any behavior, they are pursuing a certain objective. This objective may be to halt something (such as a painful emotion) or to initiate something (like making your spouse do something for you that you desire). Maladaptive actions lead the individual toward their objective, but in ways that make life more difficult.

Numerous distinct behaviors serve the same purpose; typically, there are numerous ways to achieve the same objective. It is anticipated that psychologically healthy habits will assist the individual in achieving their intended objective with as few obstacles as possible. This is the reverse of what maladaptive actions entail.

Maladaptive Versus Adaptive Behavior

Adaptive behaviors are those that accomplish a goal (or “serve the function”) in a manner that optimizes good results and minimizes negative ones. They are the habits that enable a person to adapt to whatever obstacles they encounter without making life harder.

The reasons for maladaptive behaviors are extremely diverse. Personal history, acquired behaviors, dysfunctional thought processes, and emotional dysregulation are examples.

Anxiety issues are frequently accompanied by maladaptive behavior.

If a person is prone to becoming anxious in particular situations or practically all of the time, they may frequently seek out various methods to minimize or reduce their symptoms. Due to the difficulty of maladaptive anxiety, a person may seek the quickest or easiest answer over the most effective one. In addition, individuals may engage in behaviors that they recognize as maladaptive, but their maladaptive anxiety may prevent them from identifying a more effective strategy.

If an individual grows up in a home where anxiety is a problem, they may acquire poor coping mechanisms from their caretakers. A child whose parents suffer from worry will frequently adopt their parents’ patterns.

Traumatic situations can also result in maladaptive behavior, as a person attempts to avoid or forget their trauma, as is the case with soldiers who have experienced battle and children who have been abused, among others. In many instances, trauma victims adopt these behaviors as they are attempting to escape or change something that is beyond their control. In addition, trauma is frequently a cause of maladaptive daydreaming.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of maladaptive behavior.


The majority of maladaptive behaviors are coping methods designed to reduce negative emotions and enhance good ones, but in practice, they rarely work.

A child picks a method from the given vocabulary and observes the results to gain knowledge.

Any approach that aids in achieving the objective of eliminating unpleasant feelings or enhancing positive feelings is promoted. A method that fails to meet this objective will have a decreased likelihood of being repeated.

This sort of emotion-driven reinforcement learning usually has additional negative consequences.


Over time, rewarded actions become routines and the persistent maladaptive behaviors can be activated by signals like surroundings or emotions

The process is frequently self-reinforcing, so the initial circumstances do not need to be present to activate the behavior.

Consequently, it typically follows a pattern of self-destruction.

Other potential reasons for dysfunctional conduct include:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Due to difficulties in navigating social situations, autistic individuals frequently adopt maladaptive behaviors.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is characterized by extreme issues with emotional regulation, which frequently results in maladaptive behaviors as the individual attempts to manage these feelings.

Trauma. Sexual abuse in childhood is associated with self-harm, drug dependence, and risky sexual conduct. Trauma can also produce maladaptive behavior in adults.

Developmental abnormalities. A 2010 study of limited scope identified a correlation between sleep disturbances and maladaptive behavior in individuals with developmental delay.

Panic disorder. People with panic disorder frequently engage in maladaptive activities in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms.

Complex PTSD (CPTSD). It is a disorder that a person develops after experiencing many traumatic events. As a byproduct of the individual’s effort to cope with the cumulative effects of their traumatic events, CPTSD can lead to maladaptive behaviors.

In numerous ways, maladaptive habits can affect the lives of individuals. They can be pretty problematic, as they may help alleviate difficulties in the short term but lead to severe problems over time. Many may believe they are adequately managing a situation but subsequently discover that others’ reactions to their actions are problematic. Even after it becomes apparent that there are problems, it can be pretty difficult to shift direction and alter strategies.

Among the repercussions of maladaptive behavior are:

Deficient Social Skills

A person’s social skills may deteriorate over time if they choose behaviors that cause others to distrust or hate them. A person’s reliance on a single approach to an issue does not guarantee that others will accept it or respond positively.

Issues with Being Assertive

If a person engages in maladaptive behaviors or avoids dealing with hard situations, they may have difficulty being assertive. Avoiding a problem is typically indicative of a person’s reluctance to assert oneself, which can result in their desires or needs being ignored or disregarded.

Anger Management Difficulties

A person may struggle with anger management if they attempt to express their anger in a manner that causes more difficulties than the anger itself. As maladaptive behaviors, physical violence and verbal abuse are two types of anger management issues.

Issues With Substance Abuse

As a common example of maladaptive behavior, reliance on alcohol and/or drugs to avoid uncomfortable emotions is common. This can be especially difficult because substances provide a brief analgesic effect. As soon as the drug wears off, however, the postponed pain returns immediately.

Difficulties at Workplace

Work performance concerns arise when a person employs maladaptive coping strategies for challenges that have a direct influence on their employment. When addressing personal difficulties in unproductive ways, it might be challenging to maintain focus on one’s performance at work.

Family Conflict

When family members are upset by a person’s maladaptive actions, family disputes develop. If family members recognize the problematic and complex nature of the individual’s behavior before he or she does, this can cause severe distress and disruption within the relationship. This is due to the fact that the individual exhibiting maladaptive behaviors may be completely ignorant of their effects on their loved ones.

Physical Health Issues

Medical and physical issues may also arise, as behavioral decisions are frequently directly tied to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, liver illness, physical discomfort, and stomach distress.

The types of maladaptive behaviors listed below can develop into a pattern of self-destruction. Understanding the maladaptive behavior examples will help you to manage your maladaptive behavior and aid in your efforts to change them to more pleasant adaptive behaviors.


Oftentimes, avoiding danger or disconnecting from an unpleasant situation is the best course of action, especially in situations over which you seem to have no control. It is maladaptive behavior to repeatedly avoid doing something that you should.

Suppose you suffer from social anxiety, but your profession demands you to regularly interact with others. If you often fake illness or go through the back door after five minutes, you are not addressing the issue.

Adaptive behaviors include seeking assistance for social anxiety, attempting exposure therapy, and finding a more suited occupation.

Other avoidance behaviors consist of:

  • Avoiding eye contact during a chat
  • Speaking minimally or not at all.
  • Not asking for clarification when you need it


There is nothing wrong with preferring isolation to social activity. There is also nothing inappropriate with leaving a party in order to avoid running into an ex.

When avoidance is your primary method, you limit social interaction. Think of the college student who avoids joining clubs and meeting new people by playing video games. These activities serve as a diversion and provide momentary anxiety relief.

Avoidance does little to increase coping abilities over time. Isolation results from the cessation of invitations and the resulting increase in maladaptive anxiety.


Passive aggression is the expression of hostile emotions indirectly rather than explicitly. You speak one thing but mean something else. Your behaviors reflect your genuine emotions.

For instance, your partner desires to remain at home and quits your dinner reservation. You have been anticipating it for weeks, so this disappoints you. Instead of expressing dissatisfaction, you smile and claim that everything is good.

You later bang doors and rage about unrelated matters. You are angry, but you’ve made little progress in communicating your feelings.


Some people respond to stressful situations by inflicting harm on themselves, such as:

  • By scratching, burning, or cutting the skin
  • Picking at wounds or scabs
  • Removing eyelashes, hair, and/or eyebrows
  • Self-inflicted injury or head banging
  • Unwillingness to take prescribed drugs

This could provide momentary respite, but it will exacerbate the condition and may harm your health.


Anger is a typical feeling. Anger that inspires productive action is beneficial.

It is useless if you are frequently upset or prone to angry outbursts. Angry outbursts do not fix things. It hinders your capacity to communicate successfully and alienates people.

This category would encompass a child’s anger tantrum. The majority of children eventually realize that there are better approaches to get the intended outcome.

Substance Abuse

Substance usage, whether it involves alcohol, prescribed medicines, or illegal drugs, can be a sort of avoidance behavior. It is problematic when it is used to alleviate anxiety or to numb feelings.

Any refuge from reality would be at best transient. This behavior can result in physical and emotional dependency, resulting in an entirely new set of issues.

Maladaptive daydreaming

Usually, daydreaming is a beneficial activity. It liberates the mind and aids in problem-solving. It is believed that the average person daydreams hundreds of times per day.

Maladaptive daydreaming is engaging in extended fantasy in lieu of human engagement or real-world participation. These daydreams can stretch for hours and include narratives and characters that keep you coming back for more. Then, they can prevent you from facing the truth.



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