Category Archives: Coping Mechanisms

Self-Harm And Some ‘Pain-Full’ Truths.

TW SIGN In this post I am going to be considering, as a result of a recent brief, but ongoing, conversation I have had with another blogger who struggles with self-harm, the whole question of pain and self-harm.
But before continuing I need to clarify one or two things…

Firstly I am no medical or mental health professional. I am but someone who suffer with mental health related difficulties and who as part of that suffers with suicidal ideation and struggles with self-harming.

Secondly, the following are simply theories, my own theories, based on my understandings and shared as a process through which I can seek to work out what is going on and in the process open up a dialogue through which others who struggle with self-harming or have experience with it can share their thoughts and experiences.

Because of these two facts, all that I ask is that you read and carefully consider what I am saying and respond according to your heart. 🙂

The attraction of pain

It sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it? For pain to actually have an attraction to it. But then are there not those who enjoy inflicting pain on other and similarly those who enjoy having pain inflicted on them?

Of course we are all different and we all respond and react differently to things and have differing needs but why not read this through and honestly ask yourself which apply to you. And whilst doing it how about asking yourself if pain and the attraction to pain have any place or bearing when it comes to self-harm and especially when you self-harm?

So let’s look candidly at a few of the Realities, Myths and Pitfalls.

The Physical.

We are physical beings and thus the need for physical experiences and sensations are part of each and every one of us.

Consider if you will how good it “feels” to get into a bed freshly made with clean sheets? Or how certain textures feel against the skin. How does it feel when you are physically spent or when you put a great deal of physical effort into something and then find the release at the end of it? That rewarding feeling of aching all over and having achieved something in the process?

Or the feelings that we experience at the point of initial contact when we do self-harm?

Are we responding to the pain or to the “endorphins” released as a result of that pain – and to some extent the circumstances behind the pain?
Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are substances originating internally which are psychoactive chemicals bonded together and functioning as neurotransmitters. They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during such things as exercise, excitement, pain, eating spicy foods, love, sex – especially during orgasm and which resemble opiates in their ability to produce analgesia (pain killing effects) and a feeling of well-being.

The more intense the exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, love, sex/ orgasm the more the flow of Endorphins and we can, in the right circumstances, experience an “endorphin rush”. Something often sort by some people.

Arguably, on a physical level at least, any possible attraction to pain is more likely an attraction to these pain-killing, well-being sensation giving endorphins. And folk who place their bodies in extreme situations or who are into S&M, being spanked etc, doing so for the physical response rather than the emotional or psychological responses are often doing so because of these endorphins.

So how does this play out in our Self-harming scenario?

Well think about this if you will…

Very often the need to self-harm comes from a need to feel or release. The need to feel something or to release the feelings that we believe are somehow locked up inside. We view, or believe we experience, in the act of self-harming that ‘feeling something’ or that ‘release of those feelings’. But what we are actually feeling, what we are actually experiencing is a combination of the pain and indeed the flow of those endorphins and that can make for a dangerous and addictive cocktail.

And on top of this we need to consider and be mindful of what happens once we have self-harmed. We often feel guilty or ashamed don’t we? We often also experience a low.

Part of this is down to our psychological and emotional response to the actions that we instinctively know inside that we should not have done and part of it is because the relative ‘high’ that we experienced through the release of those endorphins has now gone and so not only are we back to square one but we are now having to face the additional concern, guilt or shame that we are experiencing as a result of our actions.

So let’s also look at those emotional and psychological aspects…

The Emotional and Psychological

As I said, we are all different, and there can without doubt be different motivations behind self-harming.

For some it is that release or need to feel which I spoke of earlier.  For others it is a need to express.  For others it is a need to be punished or to punish others by punishing ourselves.

These can be, and often are, frustration based.  Frustration at circumstances and situations,  frustration as a result of not being able to get what we need from other sources or frustration with ourselves.

How many of us, who self-harm, can’t cope with something and as a result of that feel the need to go and self-ham?  How many of us who self-harm are angry at ourselves or others and so go and punish ourselves – or indirectly those others by hurting the person they love – by self-harming?  How many of us feel the need to express or release our inner often locked up and unexpressed feelings through self-harming.

Could it be that for those of us who feel the need to be punished or to punish, that pain response is the payment we feel we need to make and the endorphin response mentioned above is confirmation that the payment is made and everything is ‘ok’ now?

Could it be that for those of us who feel the need to experience feelings but who experience a lack of them that pain and the endorphin flow coupled together achieves this?

We need to be very mindful here, I believe, that self-harm isn’t only self-injury!  It can take numerous forms.  But what I am discussing here – primarily as a result of the conversation I mentioned above – are those forms for which pain features as a very real aspect of it and which appears to be such a key element.

There is, I am convinced, no doubt that pain can be life-affirming.  After all you have to be alive in order to feel pain don’t you? And this is certainly a part of it all.  Indeed the comment that inspired this entire post was this, “One thing I would like to explore more is why things that make us feel better usually involve pain. I have discussed with friends before why we need to feel like we’re dying in order to feel alive.

“A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as failing to see or hear it.” Michelangelo

Pain is life affirming!  Especially physical pain.  Physical pain is tangible and therefore has a very real attraction to where the intangible is present.  It can seemingly fill the deepest of voids and let’s be real here, since we are discussing this candidly, the tangible presence of physical pain can fill the intangible void created by psychological and emotional pain.

But as true as this is the question as to be – should we allow it to?

As someone who has struggled with self-harming I do, I believe, understand, at least in part, the attraction of that physical pain and indeed those endorphins.  But I am convinced that there are far better, far healthier ways of dealing with the needs and issues behind the desire or need for physical pain.

And here is a basic truth and something that I think we really need to consider..  Earlier I stated my belief that “the tangible presence of physical pain can fill the intangible void created by psychological and emotional pain.” But whatever way we look at it, the truth is that it is a wrong and unhealthy approach to a problem or a set of problems that need addressing correctly.

That problem or set of problems is, in my opinion, “where is that intangible void created by psychological or emotional pain” coming from?

And the correct response is, in my opinion,  not to fill the void with tangible physical pain but to address that void itself and to remove it.

So there you have it.  One man’s take on some ‘Pain-full’  truths about self-harming.  Let me know what you think as I really am interested in your opinions.

 

 

Tagged , , ,

Don’t Just Say No.

It’s nearly 6 in the morning and I have been up all night as a result of the urges to self-harm which I think so many of us know so well.

If I am completely honest I hate these darned urges and I know all too well just how dangerous they can be.

I am also very familiar with different coping techniques that can be employed during such times and I thank the Lord that I am as they have helped greatly once again.  Many of these can be found here by the way and if you struggle with self-harm can I encourage you to check them out.

Of course the fact of the matter is that you truly have to want to fight those urges and sometimes that just isn’t easy.  But if you do want to fight them having the right approach is essential.

This is something that was recognized many years ago in respect of anti-drugs campaigns.  You may well be familiar with the old campaigns that were entitled (and indeed had the core message) ‘JUST SAY NO!’.

What was soon learned was that this message and indeed tha approach just didn’t work.  Why?  Well primarily because it didn’t do anything to fill the void.  In terms of abuse and addiction people didn’t do it just for the sheer heck of it they did it because of a need and because they perceived the drink or the drugs to be fulfilling that need or at very least to be providing something else in it’s place.

Those urges to self-harm are a sign of a need and whilst responding to the need by self-harming is a very unhealthy and unhelpful response in the long-term it gives the impression in the short-term that it works.  Of course it really isn’t and is just feeding that need and complicating matters more BUT the fact remains that we have to recognize the core need that is there.

So tonight I didn’t JUST SAY NO.  I said no and did something constructive in its place.  Actually I did some computer work which needed to be done and which I had scheduled for later today.  Afterall the fact that I have been up all night as a result of those urges would mean that I would have little concentration and energy later today and would need to rest.  So doing some of today’s work whilst up last night seemed very sensible.

Additionally I did a load of housework – cleaning and re-arranging etc.  This is an excellent thing  to do as not only does it mean that your brain is actively engaged in stuff but it also mans that your body and more importantly your hands are occupied.  Of course you have to be careful around certain objects and ever mindful of the temptations that are there but it really does help.  On went the positive and upbeat music ( it is important to have that kind of music rather than silence or downbeat and negative music playing) and on I got with some chores.

And there is another very real benefit from doing this.  You get to see the fruits of your labour and to take encouragement from the fact that it came about as a result of a victory.

By doing housework you have not only been productive and achieved something but you have turned a potentially harmful and negative thing into something very positive and beneficial.

This is a wonderful thing to do.  Of course the dog thinks I am crazy and is wondering just what it going on but hey, I am sure he will cope and I am really pleased that I have coped!

 

Tagged , , , ,

Does the end justify the means?

It is an interesting question isn’t it?  One which has been around since ages past and one which will no doubt be around for ages to come.

It is also a question which I think those of us who self-harm should consider at some time or another in respect of our self-harming behaviour.

Self-harming is something which is entering more and more into our public awareness and in the main doing so in a positive way.  This is without doubt a good thing.  Too long has it gone unrecognized and misunderstood and in truth far too long has it and those who suffer from it been treated with stigma and condemnation.

But we need to be careful don’t we?

There is in life and human nature – especially corporate or collective human nature – , or so it seems to me, something I like to call the pendulum effect.

The pendulum effect is basically an over-compensation in response to a given situation and it is, I would suggest visible, in so much of our history.  Many of our laws have evolved through a process of over-compensation before settling to a more rational and appropriate state.

Recently I and at least one other follower (that I know of) of this blog have been following a piece on self-harming where it would appear that the suggestion is that we view self-harming as an ‘authentic’, ‘spiritual awakening’ or a ‘life journey’ or a ‘rite of passage’ .  This has all the potential markings of such a pendulum effect

I cannot begin to describe how deeply concerned and disturbed I am over this approach and since that approach is now ‘out there’ in the ‘blogosphere’ I think it is important that an opposing and alternative view be ‘out there’ also.

So let’s look at each of those in turn…

‘Spiritual awakening’.

Let me nail my colours to the mast here.  I am a Christian and as such I fully believe that there is a spiritual aspect to all things.  Likewise I freely and fully accept that in some cases the cause behind a person feeling the need to resort to self-harm may at it’s core be spiritually based.  However, is this an ‘awakening’?  Well not in my understanding it isn’t!

Could it be a call or even a cause to spiritual awakening?  Absolutely, but the truth is that I cannot view it as a spiritual awakening unless the spiritual aspect of it is actually explored.

‘Life-journey’

The word ‘journey’ suggests a process. Its very meaning is a ‘defined course’.  But I think we need to be very careful here.  If I were to write an auto-biography of my life (to map my journey thus far) it is certainly true that my struggle with self-harming would feature as a part of that journey.  BUT is a part of that journey that I should have taken and is it part of that journey that I HAD to take.

The answer to both of those questions is of course NO and actually the fact remains that in terms of my journey (and I would suggest the journey of most people who have struggled with self-harm) it is a part which did more harm than good – but then the clue is pretty much in the term isn’t it?

Which leads me neatly to the next part…

‘Rite of passage’

The term rite of passage was I think originally used by Arnold Van Gennep – a French anthropologist and nowadays is used more commonly to signify ‘A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person’s life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood’.

Ok so again I can see the tenuous link here BUT again I have major problems with this.  As we have already demonstrated yes this can feature as part of an episode or episodes in someone’s life but it is important that we see the ‘rite’ or ‘ritual’ part in the context of it being a series of actions or a type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone and not as something ‘glorious’ or ‘noble’ or even ‘acceptable’

Which I think brings me to the last part and possibly the key part of all this – that suggested ‘authenticity

‘Authenticity’

It is here that I want to be as clear as I can possibly be in all of this.  I truly struggle with this label – what is meant or implied by it?

Accurate?  Reliable? Right?  Factual?  Proper? Appropriate? Responsible?

Are we really suggesting that these apply to the act of self-harming?

Please do not get me wrong here. I am not disputing the authenticity of the feelings,  emotions, or thoughts which can result in a response of  self-harming I am simply disputing the ‘authenticity’ of the response itself.

I started this piece with the title and question, “Does the end justify the means?” and it is, in the opinion of this writer, a very pertinent and extremely important question for those of us who struggle with self-harm.

Whilst it is a very simplistic answer I would have to say that the end justifies the means ONLY where no better alternative means or end are available.

And there within lies the truth doesn’t it?  The fact is when it come to self-harming in the majority of cases a better alternative is available to us.

I struggle with self-harm.  I make no secret of that fact.

Thankfully, I have over time been able to find alternative coping mechanisms, redressed and righted the altered or wrong perceptions that have caused these responses in me or addressed and righted the situations and circumstances in my life which were also causing them.

I understand why I self-harmed and still sometimes still get the urge to self-harm BUT I do not justify, validate or authenticate that behaviour because to do so is both wrong and harmful in itself.

The truth is there are better alternative means and less harmful ways of dealing with things and the truth is that self-harming can have serious and long lasting effects which all too often lead to greater distress, discomfort or problems in life.

If that pendulum I spoke of earlier, in respect of self-harming swings from that place of condemnation, stigma, and ridicule to a place of understanding and appropriate response then I for one am all for it and afterall isn’t that the main purpose of this blog?

BUT the minute it swings too far the other way to a place where the self-harming behavior itself becomes acceptable then I think we are in a very dubious and dangerous area indeed.  Because then we are neither endorsing nor encouraging nor enabling the healing but instead we are endorsing, encouraging and enabling a wrong and harmful response.

If you personally struggle with self-harming or know of someone who struggles with it please know that there is help out there and please feel free to get in touch via the comment section below.

 

Tagged , , , ,

Claiming and Keeping the Now.

There are without any doubt multiple reasons behind the decision to self-harm at any given moment.  Sometimes it is in response to some circumstance or stressor that has happened there and then and sometimes it is because our mind has wandered back to a painful or distressing or unhealthy memory.  Other times it can be less of a wandering and more of an instant jump back to a painful or distressing time.

For me personally there are a few ‘triggers’ that seem to instantly send me back to that memory and thus to a dangerous or unhealthy place.

When this instant situation happens dealing with it is much harder although not impossible and I intend to share about this later.  But for the purpose of this piece I thought it might be helpful if I shared what I do when my mind starts to wander towards dangerous or unhealthy memories or thoughts.  Times when I desperately need to claim and keep hold of the now and not to go back ‘there’.

Distraction.

Distraction from the memories back onto current things can be a very useful tool.  Whether this is done by calling and friend or by interacting with someone else or through focussing the mind on current tasks is entirely up to the person concerned and their personal circumstances at that time.  Factors such as;  the time of day, how many friends – especially understanding ones – you have, how much telephone credit you have left, where you are when the need arises, all can affect the choice you make in terms of what method you choose.

Very often I will play a game that I find absorbing. Sudoku or something that requires me to focus and concentrate.  Or I will do chores such as cleaning or tidying or something like that.  Responding to emails or writing a letter to a friend or family can also distract me from those past thoughts and memories.  Although I do of course have to be careful not to choose folk with whom there is some association with those memories.

Grounding.

Grounding is another technique that I use.  I make mental and verbal inventories of my surroundings which thus bring my attention to the now and not the past.  Imaging that I am on the phone to a friend and describing what is around me or pretending that they have never seen my home or room and have asked me what it looks like and thus I am describing it in detail can be a real help.

Sometimes I play a game I call Increasing Vowels.  In this game I go through my house finding different items beginning with each of the vowels.  I start by finding one item beginning with an ‘A’ then an ‘E’ then an ‘I’ and so forth and then try to find two and then three and so forth until I am feeling much stronger.

There is infact a whole number of different things that can be done to help us ‘claim and keep the now’ and some of them can be found on the ‘Coping Techniques‘ page.

Some may work for you and some may not.  Likewise some may work in some situations and others not work.  What is important, I feel, it’s that we firstly recognize what is happening when we do ‘wander’ or we do ‘trigger’ and that we have in our tool bag a number of tried and tested methods for safely and healthily dealing with these situations.

There is, I believe, a truth here that we need to hold onto in these situations.  Self-harm, whilst being a coping technique, is a very poor one, offering short-term relief at best and nearly always adding more problems than it relieves.

Going back to the ‘place’ which causes this type of response in us, is not a good thing unless done in therapy and a safe controlled environment where the related issues are being addressed.  So staying away from that place at all other times – claiming and keeping the now, if you will, can be a very real advantage and an essential coping tool.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,