Understanding Self harming

Self harming is an often misunderstood act…

As a result, outsiders may have many questions. Why would a person purposefully hurt themselves? Does this mean that person wants to die and might commit suicide?

Self harming is a complex act which needs to be looked at in detail in order to be understood.

First, it should be established that self harming is not limited to cutting, even though this is a popular method. Still, the ways in which people self harm are virtually unlimited. Prevalent methods other than cutting are banging or hitting body parts, pulling hair, burning, scratching, and poisoning.

But what causes such behavior? The answer, of course, is complex. As with any deep-seated emotional distress, the roots most often lie in unresolved traumatic experiences in the sufferer’s past.

One of the most common instances is a history of abuse – either verbal, emotional, sexual, or various combinations of the three. In such a case, the reactions of the sufferer’s own body can become an additional problem. If the body perceives any situation to be critically dangerous, it will react by releasing the “fight or flight” chemicals. The result is a surge of energy which increases our strength as well as our pain threshold. In a dangerous situation, this can give us the physical and mental boost we need to escape or confront the situation. This feeling can be highly addictive to those in emotional distress.

Consequently, those in abusive situations might begin to, whether consciously or subconsciously, crave these adrenaline highs. They might even feel numb or bored without them. Stressful situations are then sought out. This ends up trapping the sufferer in a cycle of self-destructive behavior. They may seek out abusive situations or be purposefully accident-prone to initiate that adrenaline spike. Or, instead of seeking danger from the outside, they might simply choose to harm themselves.

However, this is but one of many possible causes that could be behind self harm. Others include but are not limited to:

  • Releasing tension from built-up anxiety and stress.
  • “Controlling” unwanted emotions like anger, fear or guilt. Self harm can temporarily result in feelings of peacefulness and calm.
  • As a way to feel something when trauma has made the victim emotionally numb. This is the human psyche’s way of protecting itself. Without being aware of this complex inner process, the victim may feel that physical pain is the only way to feel anything at all.
  • Giving the sufferer a false sense of control. For example, being the only one to know this secret about themselves may give the self harmer a sort of satisfaction. They might feel that in knowing this, and in their actions, they are somehow set apart from the rest of the world.
  • Keeping feelings of panic and dread at bay. Sufferers may believe that this act will prevent something worse from happening.
  • Re-enacting childhood events, whether these were witnessed or experienced. Being exposed to destructive behavior at an early age can colour the way the child sees the world. In a dysfunctional family environment, the child may see this behavior as “normal”, since this is what his or her home life consists of.
  • To express self hate or “punish” him or herself for being bad or not worthy. When there is  a history of abuse, children often hold themselves responsible and blame themselves for anything bad that may happen to themselves or those around them. This mentality can contribute to a tendency to self harm later in life.

It is already clear that there are a multitude of things that can be at the root of self harm and that it can present itself in various ways. However, while each individual’s story differs, there are particular beliefs or emotional traits which tend to come up time and time again in those who self harm.

There is a pattern in self harmers feeling that their physical wounds are a way of proving that their emotional pain is real. The sight of their own blood can act as an affirmation not only of their inner anguish but even of their very existence.

Self harmers also often have a history of being in a family in which expressing emotions is not encouraged or is considered a sign of weakness. Once an adult, this can manifest as an inability to cope with strong feelings in a healthy and safe manner.

Other emotional problems could also be present in someone who self harms, particularly mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders, or substance abuse. These conditions can all stem from control issues just as self harm can.

Emotional support may be lacking or completely absent. If the person’s family, friends or society in general believe in and perpetuate a negative stigma of self harm, this can often cause feelings of deep shame and guilt about the self harm which prevent the sufferer from seeking help.

Even once the sufferer seeks help, this stigma can still hinder recovery. However, many common misconceptions about self harm can be dismissed with logic and a bit of understanding.

Understanding Self Harming – Facts vs Myth

Myth: Self harm means the person wants to commit suicide.

Fact: Far from being a definite attempt at suicide, self harm is often instead a way of coping with life. By maintaining a sense of control over emotional pain, the sufferer can continue living. Still, 40 – 60% of people who eventually commit suicide do have a history of self harming. While depression is probably a factor, it is still important to note that in many of these cases, it is extremely likely that the intention was not to commit suicide and that the self harm simply got out of control.

Myth: People who self harm are insane and unbalanced.

Fact: Self harmers are usually people dealing with trauma in some way. This does not necessarily mean they have actual mental health problems, although a history of self harm and can be co-morbid with various mental disorders, as mentioned above. This is not in all cases, though, and certainly does not mean that the person has lost their grip on reality. If there is a state of psychosis present in the self harmer, this is another condition entirely.

Myth: Such people are only attention seekers.

Fact: Self harmers usually make an effort to hide what they are doing. They often feel a deep sense shame at their actions.

It may be difficult to understand why someone would want to hurt themselves, but hearing the explanations from those who have been there may help. Here are some direct quotes from self harmers:

“It wasn’t a suicide attempt; it was an escape from everything awful. When we cut, we’re in control – we make our own pain and we can stop it whenever we want. Physical pain relieves mental anguish. For a brief moment, the pain of cutting is the only thing in the cutter’s mind, and when that stops and the other comes back, it is weaker. Drugs do that too, and sex, but not like cutting. Nothing is like cutting.”

“It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words.”

“It’s a way to have control over my body because I can’t control anything else in my life.”

“I usually feel like I have a black hole in the pit of my stomach, at least if I feel pain it’s better than feeling nothing.”

“I feel relieved and less anxious after I cut. The emotional pain slowly slips away into the physical pain.”

Ultimately, self harming can do real damage not only to the sufferer’s body, but can also make their personal circumstances even worse. This is especially true in the long term.

Self harmers tend to feel guilty, which can lead to worsening depression or anxiety. Sufferers may also be afraid of being unable to stop and losing control resulting in unintended self-inflicted death. They will often hide scars under clothing and will consciously cut in places easily hidden by clothing. As a result, they might not allow anyone to get close to them in case the scars are seen. Again, this makes them less likely to seek help, and so the vicious cycle continues.

Sufferers of self harm may want to stop this behavior, but might not know where to begin. The highly addictive nature of self harm can make this journey a difficult one.

If you or someone you know needs help, hypnosis is highly effective in cases of self harm. Various techniques provide relief and healing. This will free the sufferer from the downward spiral of self harming and help them to heal and regain a healthy view of life.

How Soon Can You Expect Improvement?

Hypnotherapy works very quickly. You can expect wonderful change after every session – each session builds on the last.

How Many Appointments Do You Need?

You can expect a wonderful and lasting shift within 4 – 7 sessions. Appointments are scheduled weekly for best results.

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