Sunday, 15 January 2012

How and why self harm?

Self harm can include a whole range of behaviours and in my opinion 'non behaviours' which are damaging to the self. At the 'minor' end of the range, this could be neglecting to do things that would benefit your health or doing small things that can harm you in some way. At the other end of the spectrum, there are as many ways to seriously damage your own body as there are to cause it pleasure.

Below are some of the ways I have self harmed. I'm not writing this for entertainment reasons and I don't want to give anyone ideas of how to self harm; I'm writing it for my own record and understanding of self harm and if that helps someone else who may be interested in learning more about why people self harm then that's good too. If you are looking for ideas on how to do it yourself then read somewhere else, because I'm not very imaginative in my methods and certainly wouldn't want to be contributing to you hurting yourself.

Some of these are more like neglect or lack of self care, which may be argued as not necessarily harmful, but are not healthy behaviours nonetheless and in the long run could be detrimental to health:
  • Cutting. This is the most common method of self harm that I use. I first cut myself at the age of eight on a piece of glass I found and started regularly cutting my arms at about twelve years old. I didn't cut much after my early teens (just the odd lapse) until about three years ago when I went through a very difficult time with clinical psychology. This then involved cutting my left leg as a daily routine as well as during any additional crises. I have scars on my leg which will be there forever. In the past year or two I have started cutting my left arm again. I don't know why always 'left'. I guess I have the sense to think that there is enough skin on the left to use and it's half the body parts to hide. For the most part nowadays I try to do lighter cuts which leave marks that I know will eventually fade away. At best the marks only last weeks, at worst they'll be gone in a year or so. 
  • Purposely not allowing myself to cut my toenails so that they hurt my feet when I walk (minor but an effective reminder of the pain I deserve)
  • Not washing when I need to sometimes (it's not exactly self 'harm' but definitely not self care), 
  • Not allowing myself to eat nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables, protein or dairy foods even though I enjoy all of these
  • Not allowing myself to eat full stop. I often miss breakfast and lunch and the overriding thought is that 'you don't deserve things like that'
  • Overeating on the other side of the coin and choosing foods that are bad for me so that I will gain weight and 'look unnatractive'
  • Making myself sick
  • Digging my nails into my skin and scratching at my skin with my nails
  • Not doing things normal people do like going to get a haircut or buying new clothes when needed
  • Intentionally depriving myself of sleep
  • Taking laxatives so as to cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea (I have stopped doing this over a year ago. I originally started it to try to lose weight but soon realised if I really wanted to lose weight in this way I would buy a medication like Orlistat which would be more effective and in actual fact I was using it as a way to cause myself pain because I felt I deserved it)
  • Turning the tap up really hot while sitting in the bath
  • Biting myself
  • Pulling my hair
  • Hitting myself (this is usually done in moments where I have completely lost it and couldn't care less that I look like a numpty but have no better means of self harming e.g. during therapy sessions (cringe))
  • Neglecting to do things I know I must do so as to have to suffer the consequences e.g. finishing work projects, paying car tax on time etc.
  • Cutting myself off from friends because I don't deserve friends
  • Not allowing myself to do 'fun' things because I don't deserve to have fun
  • Sex. I am ashamed to say this and Adam would feel awful if he knew but sex can be really hard for me and I have at times initiated sex (various kinds) because I know it will be painful and triggering and all the bad things about it will come up, just because I feel that's what I deserve and I need to be punished.
There are likely to be other ways but you get the picture. I guess you could sum it up as neglect of self care, minor pain causing things, socially isolating myself, cutting and sex as self harm.

Anyway, I started writing this post because my new psychologist (I haven't forgotten I still haven't told you about how it went with her this week) was asking me about what cutting offers me and I've been thinking about this question. I wanted to look up to see if I had posted about my reasons for self harm. I wasn't able to find anything although I am sure I must have written about it before. But anyway, I wanted to get down in black and white, what my reasons for self harm are and what it offers me. So here goes:
  1. A way of feeling 'something'. Sometimes I feel so unreal and detached from everything. I know there is pain inside me somewhere but I can't access it. I just feel numb. I am unable to feel anything: not good, not bad. Feeling numb is like not even being alive. I start to wonder if I even exist. Cutting or otherwise hurting myself is a way of making a real feeling. It feels real and reminds me I'm real. It's grounding. It's not always about the pain because I have cut myself before and not been able to feel anything. 
  2. A way of 'not feeling'. As well as hurting myself to 'feel', I also hurt myself as a way of not feeling. When I feel despair and intense, unpleasant emotions, self harm is a way of distracting myself from that emotional pain and giving myself a physical pain takes the focus off the emotions. It can also help me to switch off the emotional feelings by instead feeling a physical pain.
  3. Punishment. Pretty much all of the above behaviours are done as a way of punishing myself. I hear the voice saying 'You deserve pain. You deserve this' and I have to punish myself.
  4. Seeing scars and cuts is a way of reminding myself who we are. I'm so separate from other parts at times that I forget they exist. If I go to the toilet and see cuts all over my leg it's an instant reminder of the other parts and the realness of everyone and their pain. It's important to them that this is remembered and acknowledged. 
  5. Also, if I have fresh cuts I can scratch at them and feel grounded during the day at any point.
  6. Seeing cuts and scars reminds me that I have a reason to feel bad. I know that sounds weird, but sometimes I forget my past and the pain of it but I still feel bad and depressed. When I see the scars I remember that I am right to feel bad. People don't hurt themselves in that way without a reason, therefore there must be a good reason why I feel bad too, therefore I shouldn't feel so guilty for feeling bad. 
  7. Blood. This is a lesser reason, but I like to see the blood. I'm really squeamish about blood when it comes to other people but I don't mind my own. I like to see the blood coming out. I'm not really sure why. Later edit: this is a view of ONE part. Often the blood really freaks me out actually. Not in a squeamish way but in that it makes me feel scared. Quite often when I'm afraid that I'll seriously damage myself and I always worry that I might end up needing to go to hospital. If it bleeds more I start to panic about that prospect.
  8. Sometimes I self harm without any reason or feeling that I am aware of attached to it. It just seems to happen automatically. I surmise that it is another part who is controlling me in this way, because it's like I become an observer of myself and I'm just watching what's happening.
  9. Part of me wants me to cut my wrists; I mean slash my wrists, so that I will bleed to death. I sometimes cut my wrists because it's like toying with what I really want to do.
I have written a post about things that can help me when I feel like self harming. I hope if you have been reading this and are feeling any of the above things, that you will read the other post and try some more healthy ways of looking after yourself and ask for help from someone you can trust. I feel a lot of shame about self harm. I still listen to my mother with her scathing words about people who self harm for attention and it holds me back from talking about it because I know she's not the only person who thinks that way. I try to remind myself that I know I'm not doing it for attention and I also remind myself that it's wrong to scorn someone even if they were looking for attention. At the end of the day, would anyone take a blade and cut their own body if they didn't have something seriously wrong with them? In my opinion, if someone were cutting themselves for attention (which I doubt many people who do it are doing), they obviously need some attention. It doesn't mean I find it easy to overcome that fear of being judged though in talking about it in clinical psychology. I felt T wasn't judgemental of me in any way when I talked with her about self harm. In fact she even openly acknowledged with me that it was helpful to me at times (not that she was condoning it). I still worried though about what she was really thinking.

If I feel like doing it, I try to remind me that I don't deserve to feel bad things. I also really try not to self harm if I am feeling bad about people who have hurt me, like my dad and other people. I remind myself that he has affected me in so many ways in the past that I still deal with and I don't want to have any more reminders of him (or anyone else) attached to my body. Sometimes when I think this way I get angry at him and feel more determined not to let him affect me any more... and I guess anger is a good reaction to have. Better late than never.


Ellen said...

Anger is a great reaction to have - much better than self harm!

take care

Ruth said...

I can relate to most of these. Thank you for sharing the information. It helped me to see areas that I hadn't recognized as self neglect and harm. I am working on this year being the year I take care of myself. Take care of you.

Candycan said...

Thanks Ellen. Anger is one of the hardest things to feel. I remind myself (and Adam) that I am allowed to be angry. It does come out at the wrong things sometimes though. I'm working on that.

Thanks Ruth, I'm glad it was helpful in some ways. I was ambivalent about if I should post it or not. Good luck with your resolution. It sounds like you deserve a bit of care after everything else that's gone before.

Candycan said...

NB Blogger is fucking up again and deleted parts of the post. I don't know why it does that! So I have added them in.

Meronym said...

Positive thought on self-harm? GASP - oh no! But really, yes, and thank you. I find cutting to be a release, a distraction from hurt, a reminder to feel. I try to make each cutting pretty so that I enjoy it afterward, not just the sensation, but the visual. Just a little cutting provides stimulation of several kinds for weeks. And if I do it purposely, with collusion from the whole system, then it doesn't build to this horrible reaction that's traumatic and needing intervention.