Self harm (eg cutting) is a coping mechanism towards unspeakable trauma

Last Updated on July 18, 2020

A friend of mine confessed to me last year that she used to cut herself. It was totally unexpected. I was really taken by surprise because  I have already known her a few years and nothing in her outward appearance, words and demeanor showed that she was suffering from unspeakable inner torment.

There are people who assumed that those who cut themselves are just doing it for the attention. No, I really do not believe so.

Those who wanted to cut themselves, ultimately giving into the urge and derived relief from cutting themselves are inflicting self harm in a desperate attempt to numb a deep inner pain. And the inner pain so much greater than the physical pain inflicted by the cuts. This pain would likely have been caused by trauma and abuse endured during childhood.

Most people, when they feel down or just want some attention would achieve it by less harmful ways such as drastically changing their appearance, buying stuff and posting all over social media or trying out some dangerous sports or stunt and then telling everyone they know about it.

No one would want to inflict such deep pain on themselves unless it is a way to cope with the inner pain that they are not able to get it out of their system. In the case of my friend, what she suffered was unspeakable. Both her parents were addicts and there was also unspeakable abuse towards her and her sibling. She grew up having police bursting into her home to try to catch her dad. Her father died from being shot by police while her mother from drug overdose, one day apart from each other.

So, it was not surprising that both she and her sibling does self harm by cutting themselves.

Eventually, she met a guy who she thought was a good man. But he turned out to be a psychopath and abused her physically and emotionally. He berated her calling her names that made her feel like she was the lowest scum on earth, kept reminding her how worthless she was and she should be grateful to meet him. He also physically abused her but he was careful to do it at areas of her body which the scars and marks would not be obvious. For years, she put up and endured it till he finally found another woman and dumped her. But then when he dumped her, he went around to badmouth her and talk bad about her so that it would seemed that it was her fault that he left.

All these events have left a deep scar in her. She become deviant and started behaving in ways that made people believe her ex’s words. She now get the pain on her skin in the form of tattoos. Her trauma was so deep as she was being let down and betrayed time and time again.

How to overcome the urge to cut yourself or beat the habit

Self harm is a coping mechanism, much as any form of addictions such as towards drugs, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, gambling are desperate ways to deal with the inner pain.

There are ways, suggested by those who are recovering from self harm as follows:

1. Squeezing an ice cube in your hands
The sensation would cause the pain all the way up your arms.

2. Rubber band trick
Put the rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you feel the urge to hurt yourself. The pain that comes from the snapping of the band hurts but it would not cause scars on your skin

3. Draw on your arms or the place that you wish to cut with a marker pen

4. Keep a journal or diary
Write down about events, your thoughts and emotions. After a while, you may be able to identify certain triggers that leads to this habit.

5. Maintaining awareness and mindfulness
This is something I find to be helpful in dealing with arising of negative emotions. These negative emotions can lead us to harm ourselves in a number of ways. I noticed that once we start to entertain our negative thoughts, they tend to spin out of control and rise to a crescendo. So the moment it arise I try to become away of it, observe it and it just die down.

But it is not easy to open up and deal with a whole range of fear and years of suppressed emotions of anger, sadness, destitute and feelings of low self worth. Working through trauma requires a good therapist and health care professional. Some survivors are able to make peace with their past through deepening their spiritual practice or to work towards a cause such as speaking up and using their experience to help others. The calling to help or simply having a reason or goal makes them work through their healing process.

In the case of my friend, I know she would not give up easily. She has left the hectic life and work in the city, went back to her hometown to recuperate under the care of her grandparents. Eventually she found a job at a local pet shop where she helped to groom and take care of pets which was something she found therapeutic. She is slowly but surely rebuilding her life again.



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