This is a highly sensitive topic and I will try to tread carefully, but please be warned that this could get intense and/or difficult to read once you start thinking. Take a break if you need to and please be gentle with yourself when you do stop. What has happened is in the past, forgive yourself, but promise yourself too that you'll stop.
I have a very painful, dark and personal connection with this topic, and it is one that I have battled hard to understand, to stop and to replace. I do not mean to cause you any upset, but I hope this will help you to take the steps to understanding why you are hurting yourself and what you can do about it.
Living with pain is hard and we don't always respond in the best manner when feeling overwhelmed by our pain...please remember that there are things you can do to help manage your pain that will not cause you harm.
Please read the following with care and caution. This topic is triggering...so please be sure to have your positive coping skills available as you work through this.
What is self-abusive behaviour?...
What does it mean to be self-abusive? It's different for each of us. What we do, what causes it, the thoughts in our head, and how we feel while we're doing it...is different for each of us...all different. If I were to define self-abuse I would define it as the following:
Any action or behaviour that causes harm to oneself and is done as a result of anxiety, depression, stress, emotional numbness or other mental health concerns, can be self-abusive behaviour and needs to be considered when trying to understand the underlying reasons for the behaviour.
Now this concept is broader than what is accepted by general society and the medical profession, however, the definition of self-abusive behaviour is any behaviour that causes harm to self. This then opens many of our behaviours to interpretation with regards to self-abuse.
Wikipedia states that "the motivations for self-harm vary and it may be used to fulfill a number of different functions. These functions include self-harm being used as a coping mechanism which provides temporary relief of intense feelings such as anxiety, depression, stress, emotional numbness or a sense of failure or self-loathing and other mental health traits including low-self esteem or perfectionism. Self-harm is often associate with a history of trauma and abuse including emotional and sexual abuse"
Forms of self-abusive behaviour...
There are many forms of self abusive behaviors. Although some would say eating disorders are not considered to be a form of self-abusive behaviour, for this conversation, I would include it. I would also include for the sake of argument, that any manner in which we can mistreat ourselves, should be considered as self-abusive behaviour. When we mistreat ourselves and cause harm, we are in fact being self-abusive.
When considering self-abusive behaviours, most people focus solely on the physical ways we can cause harm to ourselves. I challenge you to also consider how you cause harm to yourself mentally and/or emotionally.
Some examples of self-abusive behaviours are: (note: not a full list)
- cutting, picking, burning
- over eating, binging, purging, or not eating
- verbally abuse self with demoralizing negative self-talk
- ignoring personal needs
- abusing substances and/or alcohol
- swallowing inedible objects (PICA)
- taking your prescription medication in ways otherwise than prescribed or directed i.e. breaking open a capsule before swallowing, taking more pills than prescribed
- have others cause you harm when/if you can't do it yourself
Identifying and changing self-abusive behaviour is hard, and if you don't know why you are doing things, changing your behaviour will be even harder. Once you know what you do to cause harm to yourself, the next step is understand why.
Motivations behind self-abusive behaviour...
What are your motivations when you begin to self abuse? What function does it serve within your life? Give this a lot of thought. Sometimes our motivations are different with each time. We can have many triggers that will cause us to begin self-abusing. Before you can change this, you need to fully understand what you are doing and why. There is always an underlying reason for beginning self-harm behaviours....what are yours?
Reasons why I would hurt myself (not my whole list but you get the idea)
- low self-esteem - I was broken, unlovable, worthless, no good,
- negative thoughts and self-talk
- depression - life was never going to be what I had before again, pain - thinking life was worthless, over now because of my illness - I was existing not living
- I was causing pain I could control to help mask the pain I couldn't control
- self-isolation and loneliness
- it was an escape from my mental pain and my emotions...something else to concentrate on
- felt I deserved it
Why do you harm yourself? What are your reasons? Give it some thought please. Your reasons may be different than mine or maybe they're similar...I don't know...only you do...but why do you harm yourself?
You cannot change what you do not acknowledge. I do realize there will be triggers you aren't aware of until they hit you, but please give thought to what triggers you are aware of...add to your list as you become aware of you triggers.
Changing and stopping self-abusive behaviours...
As you start thinking about this and challenging why you do what you do, I hope you will find this gets easier as you learn other ways to deal with the feelings that cause you to self-abuse. You may even ask yourself why? When you can look questioningly at your sores or even tell yourself "there are better ways", you are ready to stop this behaviour. Now the important thing is to remind yourself why you no longer wish to cause harm to yourself and remind yourself what you can do differently now.
An important key to changing this behaviour is to catch yourself before you begin to hurt yourself. Now this may be tricky because it's so ingrained into your psyche right now. Your behaviours are a part of who you are...they are your coping skills at the moment and you use them to survive. Sound familiar?
Why do you hurt yourself as a way of surviving your physical pain?...your emotional pain?...what about your mental pain? Give it thought...why do you hurt yourself? What do you do to cause yourself harm? Before you can stop this behaviour you need to understand what purpose it serves in your life...ask yourself a tough question and answer the reason why?
Another key to stopping this cycle of behaviour is to change the personal thought statements that you have going through your head when you are hurting yourself...you know the ones I mean...that's right! ..those ones! What are you saying and thinking to yourself, when you're causing harm to yourself? Please stop and give this some thought.
The thoughts that are going through your head when you are hurting yourself...they need to be gone!... banished!...to be replaced with positive and encouraging thoughts about yourself. Thoughts that make you smile and feel good inside instead of hurting...thoughts that will bring you out of the negativity and need to harm yourself...positive thoughts. What do you say to yourself when you're hurting you? How do you talk to you?...now that needs to change.
Start setting boundaries for yourself. When you feel your emotions or anxieties growing out of control, manage them with calming techniques that will bring you down safely from the emotions without causing harm to yourself...calming techniques such as relaxation or meditation, soothing your senses, and positive self scripts..."I can do this", "I'm safe", "I'm strong enough to handle this without harming myself"...are some ideas to get you started.
Turn to your family and friends. Let them know what's going on and ask them for help in stopping. If you are aware of your triggers share them with your support group. When you feel your triggers starting or when they see your warning signs, ask them to help you stop. Sometimes just talking about what is bothering us can help us to stop.
Now you have to be ready for what will come next. When you ask for help, don't be surprised when you get it, and it may come in ways you didn't expect but again, you asked for the help..Now accept it!
My worst self-abusive behaviour was to cause raw bloody open sores on my hands and arms and I still have the scars today. I couldn't admit what I was doing either. I would lie and say I had burnt myself in the kitchen whenever asked about them...I became the clumsiest cook in the kitchen. I lied again and again and again. This was a soothing behaviour for me at the time...but it's one I'm very proud to say is no longer a part of my life.
This was one of my hardest battles to fight too I'll be honest, but when I was ready, I asked my family for support. My Mom took away my picking tools and if I found more? well...they were taken away too. My daughter would look at me with such love and pain in her eyes and then she would slap my hands, reminding me she loved me and that I didn't need to hurt myself. Now I didn't expect that! but I did ask for help and it did help me to stop. (thank you peanut)
It took time and it took learning what made me do it, finding something else in my life that soothed me just as much...something that could make me smile and feel good instead of hurting myself and I found it in my art. I poured my hurt and pain onto the canvas and soothed myself without spilling any more blood.
When you are thinking of hurting yourself, reaching out for help can be hard but it's important to take the steps to ask for help. Although most self-abusive behaviours are not considered to be done with suicidal intent, some can be life threatening. It's important that you have an open line of communication with your doctor and/or health care professional about this too. There is help and you may need a referral from your doctor to see a counsellor when the time is right.
Intense emotions like anxiety or depression that reach this level, may need outside professional help to beat. Don't worry! They will not think any less of you for hurting yourself. They will be truly worried and they should be. They will realize you need help, so take it! Please? What have you go to lose?
So...to wrap this up...
- Learn your triggers...being aware of what they are will help you to stop.
- Understand why you are choosing to harm yourself and learn how to manage the thoughts and emotions without causing harm to yourself.
- Reach out to your support system and let them know what you need and when you need it.
- REMEMBER...You can do this! you do not have to hurt yourself further because of your pain.
- When you start saying your old statements...stop...and remind yourself why you are not going to hurt yourself anymore...YOU are WORTH the effort.
- Speak to your family doctor and/or treatment team...there is help...counselling, support groups... help is available...reach out for it.
Please...there are ways to manage this and to over come it too...will you take the steps for you moving forward? I know that the hardest battle you will ever fight is for yourself against yourself...FIGHT FOR YOU! not against you.
please? take good care of you