Why Do People Self-Harm? Six Possible Reasons.

In my last post I wrote about a specific type of self-harm known as compulsive skin picking disorder and how, in the most serious cases, it can necessitate skin grafts to repair the severe damage done to the flesh.

In this post I want to look at the possible reasons why some people are driven to self-harm ( or, as its sometimes referred to as, self-mutilate).

First, it should be pointed out that those abused as children have a much higher than average chance of adopting self-harming behaviours (such as compulsive skin picking, as well as cutting and burning the skin). Also, females are at greater risk than males. And, finally, those who have an existing disorder of substance abuse and/or an eating disorder are also at elevated risk of becoming self-harmers.

Possible Reasons For Self-harming Behaviour:

1) the physical pain induced by self-harming temporarily distracts the individual from overwhelming psychological pain.

2) many people who have suffered traumatic childhoods become adults who feel emotionally numb and dead, they may ,too, experience a sense of being somehow ‘unreal’ (psychologists call this sensation depersonalization) and of the world itself being ‘unreal’ (psychologists refer to this sensation as derealization). Self-infliction of pain, however, does feel real, thus, it may temporarily counteract the feelings of numbness and unreality.

3) those who have suffered childhood trauma have often been conditioned by their parents to believe (erroneously) that they are somehow ‘intrinsically bad'(click here to read my article on this). Self-harm may be driven, therefore, by an unconscious desire to punish oneself.

4) for those who have experienced significant childhood trauma, often the specific causes of their psychological suffering are far too complex to be expressed verbally. Self-harm, then, may be a way of expressing the acute mental pain one is in non-verbally. In this way, self-harm can be seen as a way to act out internal emotional turmoil.

5) if we were deprived of proper care and nurturing as a child, self-harm may be (again, on an unconscious level) an attempt to gain these things from which we were deprived (although it should be noted that many individuals who self harm injure parts of their body which are not generally on public view because they feel a sense of shame and embarrassment about their self-inflicted injuries).

6) finally, it is also theorised that self-harm can trigger a dissociative state (click here to read my article on dissociation).

Treatment:

For detailed advice (provided by the NHS) about self-harming behaviour and how it can be addressed click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma Leading To Compulsive Skin Picking

As a child, from the age of about ten, my brother ( three years older than me) never called me by my name, but always referred to me as ‘Scabby’ or ‘The Scab’. When, at age and eleven, I joined him at secondary school (Watford Grammar School for Boys, Hertfordshire, UK, just in case anyone’s remotely interested) he ensured all his friends knew this name for too, with all too predictable results.

Sadly, my highly emotionally immature mother (click here to read my article on emotionally immature parents) would, too, refer to me by this not entirely flattering appellation. Or just laugh when my brother used the term.

The reason (apart from their flagrant and wholly gratuitous ignorance) was that I compulsively picked at my skin. I have since discovered that this is a recognised disorder with various medical names, including:

– dermatillomania

– body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB)

– skin picking disorder (SPD)

– excoriation disorder

The disorder is also related to obsessive compulsive disotder (OCD) and involves picking, scratching and digging under the skin with one’s finger nails.

What Causes It?

Research suggests that the disorder is a dysfunctional response to stress used (consciously or subconsciously) in an attempt to alleviate high levels of mental distress and turmoil.

It is also theorised that it can operate as an expression of repressed rage and/or other repressed feelings.

In nearly half of all cases the onset of the disorder occurs before the age of ten years. It is linked to childhood abuse and trauma and is often accompanied by depression, anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

Genes are also thought to play some part in the disorder.

Severe cases.

In severe cases, individuals can spend hours a day picking at their skin and the harm inflicted can be so severe that skin grafts are required.

Also, as can well be imagined, heavy scarring can result (as it has in my case).

Link To Suicide:

Particularly worryingly, about 11% of those who suffer from the disorder will attempt suicide.

Shame and Guilt:

To compound the problem, those who suffer from the disorder often feel ashamed of their compulsion and, accordingly, do not want others to know. Because of this, they often select areas of skin to pick which are not normally on show to the public (eg see picture above).

Treatment:

More research is needed to ascertain effective treatments but two of the most promising at the moment are cognitive behavioural therapy and habit reversal training.

Resources:

‘STOP SKIN PICKING – self-hypnosis MP3 available to purchase (immediate download) : CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Parents Who Are Emotionally Immature : Effects On Their Children.

Parents who are emotionally immature fail to connect properly with their children on an emotional level.

This can leave their children feeling emotionally insecure, existentially lonely, empty and hollow.

The emotions these children feel remain invalidated by the emotionally immature parent; indeed, the parent is frequently so self-obsessed that s/he fails to notice the child’s feelings and emotional needs.

However, as the child generally has no point of comparison, s/he may remain oblivious to the fact that s/he is being emotionally neglected.

As a result, the child might feel that s/he is somehow very different from his/her peers (perhaps s/he is depressed, anxious, severely lacking in confidence  and withdrawn) without understanding why this is. Very sadly, such a child may, wrongly, blame him/herself, believing him/herself to be somehow intrinsically unlikeable.

When such a child becomes an adult, s/he may continue to be severely lacking in confidence, particularly with regard to his/her ability to form relationships. In fact, s/he may develop a powerful fear of relationships, believing that the rejection s/he experienced as a child would be quickly repeated in any incipient adult relationship s/he managed to develop.

Due to this avoidance of relationships, the individual can perpetuate his/her feelings of emotional loneliness indefinitely throughout adulthood.

Some Typical Characteristics Of Emotionally Immature Parents:

egocentrism

– poor ability to empathise with / understand emotional experiences their children

– may focus on physical needs of child at expense of his/her emotional needs

– shallow, but intense, emotions

– may ‘parentify’ their children ( click here to read my article on this)

– may have a tendency to ‘over-intellectualize’ (click here to read my article on this) / relate to others on an intellectual, rather than emotional, level

– may keep others shut out emotionally, however hard they try to make an emotional connction

– may induce anger and rage in their child, due to the frustration and hurt the child feels in response to ‘being kept at arm’s length’ (The child may internalize such anger (is re-direct it at him/herself giving rise to depression, anxiety and irrational self-blame)

– may create what has been termed by psychologists ‘emotional contagen.’ ( ie when the parent is upset s/he upsets everyone else to the point where they feel personally responsible for making him/ her feel better – this may take the form, for example, of protracted sulking)

– may be very adept at turning the blame on others. For example, if the child criticised him/ her it is the child who s/he defensively accuses as being the real ‘wrong-doer’ (eg s/he may accuse the child of being ‘judgmental’ and ‘unforgiving’).

– the parent may be so self-absorbed and focussed on his/her own needs at the expense of the child’s that the child fails to form a strong sense of his/her own identity. To use an expression coined by the psychologist Bowen (1976) the child may become psychologically ‘de-selfed’.

Types Of Emotionally Immature Parents:

According to Gibson, PhD, an expert in this field, there are four main types of emotionally immature parents. I provide a very brief description of each of these below:

A) Emotionally Volatile:

Such a parent can exhibit dramatic mood swings and may vascillate, unpredictably, between being too involved with the child’s life and being too remote and withdrawn from him/her. Such a parent may also be prone to extreme over-reactions eg becoming excessively, and utterly disproportionately, angry when a child makes a small, innocent mistakemistake.

B) Driven:

For example, such a parent may be a workaholic, obsessed with pursuing his own goals, controlling and a ‘perfectionist’ (click here to read my article on this)

C) Passive:

This type of parent, according to Gibson, minimises (thus largely invalidating) the child’s emotional problems. If the child is being abused by the other parent, this type of parent might even turn a blind eye to this, preferring not to ‘rock the boat.’ Indeed, such a parent generally takes the ‘line of least resistance’

D) Rejecting:

This type of parent may come to view his/her children as a burden, getting in the way of him/her pursuing his/her own life goals. In this way, the child is both resented and essentially rejected.

Therapy:

Individuals who have been adversely affected by having been brought up by an emotionally immature parent and have developed problems such as anxiety, depression, lack of identity and poor confidence can be helped by various types of psychotherapy; in particular, numerous studies have been conducted showing the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Click here to read my article on this.

Above eBook now available for instant download on Amazon. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Pathological Perfectionism May Be Linked To Childhood

A person who is a pathological perfectionist may be defined as one who feels obsessively driven to continually meet the exceptionally exacting standards s/he invariably sets him/ herself AND this behaviour leads to significantly adverse effects. FURTHERMORE, a person suffering from this is too dependent on performing exceptionally well to maintain his/her self-esteem.

Negative Cosequences Of Pathological Perfectionism May Include:

 – social isolation (so busy trying to attain great success the person is likely to have little time to socialise/ maintain a relationship)

– no hobbies/ no time spent on recreation (s/he may see these things as a ‘waste of time’ and/or feel guilty about undertaking such ‘frivolities’

– limited range of interests

– exhaustion

– insomnia

– poor concentration

– obsessive preoccupation with errors/perceived failure

– constant self-criticism

fear of failure leading to procrastination and avoidance of tasks

 

Pathological Perfectionism May Also Increase The Chances Of Developing Conditions Such As The Following:

– depression

– anxiety

– obsessive-compulsive disorder

– insomnia

– eating disorders ( eg in quest to have ‘perfect’ body)

Futile Treadmill:

Pathological perfectionists are likely to discount, dismiss or minimize their successes and fixate only on how they perceive themselves to have ‘fallen short’. No amount of success satisfies them, they always need to do better and achieve more.

In this way, they become trapped on an exhausting, debilitating treadmill, never reaching their ‘destination.’ An utterly futile exercise.

Of course, striving for success can also be undertaken in a more psychologically and physically healthy manner. There is no set point when striving for success becomes so intense and obsessive that it could be termed ‘pathological’, but the more negative consequences it gives rise to, the more likely it becomes that it could reasonably be so categorised.

Also, when deciding if one’s perfectionism is pathological, to what degree one’s self-esteem is dependent upon always achieving great success is a particularly important consideration; the greater the dependency, the more unhealthy the person’s mode of perfectionism is likely to be.

Do Certain Types Of Childhood Increase A Person’s Likelihood Of Developing Pathological Perfectionism?

It is likely that genetic inheritance can put a person at greater risk of developing pathological perfectionism than average. However, so far the research suggests that environment plays a larger role.

For example, if one was brought up by parents who only showed their offspring affection and approval when they excelled in their activities (in other words, the parents’ love was conditional upon the offspring’s achievement levels – eg academic, sporting, musical achievement etc – click here to read my article about problems gifted children may face) such offspring might grow up to develop pathological perfectionism ( in an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to win/ keep their parents’ love).

Also, if one experienced a childhood in which there was significant psychological upheaval and one grew up, in consequence,with a deep sense of life ‘being out of control’, one may become a pathological perfectionist in an attempt to compensate for this. A workaholic, for example, may be so driven in his/her work/career as all other areas of his/ her life feel out of control.

Treatment:

Pathological perfectionism can respond very well to cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Also, if the perfectionism as linked to other conditions (as mentioned above), these too may improve if pathological perfectionism is successfully treated.

Resources:

Overcome Perfectionism Hypnotherapy Audio – click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Wrongly Diagnosed With BPD?

It has been suspected for a while now that many people who have been diagnosed with BPD should really have been diagnosed with a different syndrome known as complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Whilst simple PTSD typically results from an intense, one- off, traumatic experience, complex PTSD occurs as a result of protracted and prolonged trauma. CPTSD is especially likely to occur in cases of child abuse that continued over a long period, especially when the abuser should have been acting as the child’s primary carer(eg a parent or step-parent).

It has been found that a very high percentage of those diagnosed with BPD experienced severe childhood trauma which is why (amongst other reasons, see below) many experts are now questioning whether a large number of those so diagnosed should, instead, have been diagnosed with BPD.

CPTSD is so damaging to an individual as it eats into the very core of how s/he perceives him/herself and affects, on a profound level, how s/he views others and the world in general. In short, it adversely impinges upon a person’s core and fundamental beliefs.

Symptoms of CPTSD

- severe mood swings

– out of control emotions

– out of control behaviours eg shoplifting, pathological gambling, promiscuous and risky sex, severe overspending

– dissociation (click here to read my article on this)

– eating disorders

– overeating/obesity

–  impaired and distorted view of abuser (leading to emotional attachment). This is also known as Stockholm Syndrome.

– marked distrust of others

– intense jealousy

– extreme neediness

– hopelessness/despair

– feeling that life is utterly devoid of meaning

– inappropriate feelings of guilt/shame/self-disgust

- outbursts of extreme anger (sometimes with physical violence)

– severe anxiety

– suicidal thoughts/behaviour

Overlap With BPD Symptoms:

It is because these symptoms overlap substantially with the symptoms of BPD (click here) that it is thought many people are being diagnosed with BPD when they should be being diagnosed for CPTSD.

It is my belief that a main cause of such misdiagnosis is that  doctors do not spend enough (or, indeed, any!) time talking to supposed ‘BPD suffers’ about their childhood experiences.

Given the choice, I suspect, if there are valid reasons, most people would feel more comfortable with a diagnosis of CPSTD than one of BPD. This is because, sadly and wrongly, stigma still tenaciously attaches itself to a diagnosis of BPD.

Also, a diagnosis of CPTSD implicitly acknowledges the fact that the sufferer has had harm done to him/her and that CPTSD is a NORMAL REACTION TO AN ABNORMAL SET OF EXPERIENCES.

This could significantly help sufferers cast off, once and for all, the vast weigh of guilt many feel in one fell swoop.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Constantly Feeling Fearful? Has Your Brain Been Wired For Fear Due To Childhood Trauma?

We have seen from other articles I have published on this site that psychological experiences, especially when young, can actually alter the physical structure of the brain, as well as its neural connection (ie how the brain cells are interlinked) – this is because of a quality of the brain that psychologists call neuroplasticity (click here to read one of my articles about this phenomenon).

These physical changes in the brain, caused by psychological experience, can profoundly alter how the brain functions and also, therefore, how we think, feel and behave.

If, as a child, we suffered trauma and abuse as we were growing up, particularly in our earliest years, and, because of this, lived in a state of perpetual fear, the brain will have become shaped into constantly being on ‘red-alert’, trapping us into continually feeling fearful and hyper-sensitive in relation to threat, whether this threat be real or imagined. Indeed, if we have been conditioned in this manner by our childhood experiences, we are likely to be prone to imagining threats as well as being likely to severely over-react to mild ones ( eg we may be easily angered and more likely than the average person to become violent, rather like, to use a most unoriginal, but, I think, not inapposite simile, a provoked and cornered animal).

Living in constant fear is psychologically extremely painful and distressing, as I know from my own experiences (see David’s Experiences, MAIN MENU). Indeed, this pain can become so intolerable that, in the absence of therapy, the individual may be driven to attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or street drugs – this is known as dissociation, and there are many other forms of it, such as compulsive gambling and sex addiction (click here to read my article on this). Whilst not recommended, such behaviour is understandable when the alternative is to live in an agony of agitation, even terror, as if one were, imminently, going to become intimately acquainted with the world’s worst horrors.

Trauma and abuse, resulting in the child feeling unsafe in early life, can, potentially, have such a profound effect because, it this stage of incipient development the brain is highly malleable (ie easily shaped by environmental experience). As well as the possible adverse effects already described, when such a traumatised child becomes an adult s/he may also find:

– difficulties with connecting with others on an emotional level / problems forming and maintaining close relationships

– an inability to feel pleasure (also known as anhedonia – click here to read my article on this).

 


 

Above: Often, the things we fear only ever exist within our own minds. We can waste an inordinate amount of mental energy in this manner, and cause ourselves enormous, needless, mental anguish.

 


 

This is because, in effect, the parts of the brain responsible for forming healthy relationships and for feeling pleasure have not been, as it were, sufficiently exercised during childhood; on the other hand, the parts of the brain (especially the amygdala) that give rise to feelings of fear have been over-exercised and are, therefore, overactive.

Children’s brains are much more vulnerable to the effects of stress and trauma than are the brains of adults (assuming the adults in question did not experience significant trauma growing up) because, by the time one’s an adult (to repeat, who has not had a traumatic childhood), the brain has had time to build up some resilience; however, in the case of the child, opportunities to develop such resilience have not, sadly, presented themselves.

RECOVERY:

For recovery from such effects of trauma (the brain’s neuroplasticity also means it can ‘heal’ itself), the individual, first and foremost, needs to feel secure and that s/he is in a safe environment. Additionally, therapies such as NEUROFEEDBACK can be beneficial, helping the individual to ‘rewire’ his/her brain.

Excitingly, too, recent research has shown (and this may surprise some) that yoga can actually help sufferers of the kind of difficulties described above more effectively than medication (disclaimer – this does not apply to everyone – only stop taking prescribed medication in consultation with an appropriately qualified and experienced professional). There is also strong evidence showing that the practice of ‘mindfulness’ can be very effective (see MAIN MENU for articles on Mindfulness and Hypnotherapy).

Above ebook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click HERE for details.

 

Beat Fear And Anxiety Hypnosis Pack – click HERE for details.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

Emotionally Neglected As A Child? : The Possible Repercussions.

Emotional neglect by parents of their children tends to operate ‘below the radar’ as it’s more a matter of what the parents don’t do than it is about what they do. In other words, it tends to be an act of omission as opposed to an act of commission. Because of this, it frequently remains undetected, and the child, not knowing anything different, may well not be aware that s/he is being mistreated.

Nevertheless, the adverse effects of emotional neglect upon the child can be very serious and when s/he becomes an adult s/he may find s/he has a number of psychological problems but remains oblivious as to their origins (ie the fact that they significantly stem from the emotional neglect s/he suffered as a child).

So what are the psychological symptoms of having been emotionally neglected as a child? According to a leading authority on this area of study, Dr Webb, they include the following:

– a deep sense of being a fundamentally flawed individual

– difficulty self-soothing (comforting self when distressed)

– a preference for solitude/own company

– feel like an outsider

– often feel unhappy without knowing why

– often feel irritable without knowing why

– find it easier to express affection towards animals than towards humans

– have a poor view of self

– feel inadequate and essentially inferior to others

– highly self-critical

– feel awkward in social situations

– regarded by others as being distant and aloof

– feel a strong need to be self-reliant/ find it difficult to ask others for help and support

– frequently feel angry and/or disappointed with self

– when with family and friends have feelings of not belonging

 

NB : Webb (see above) concedes that these observations come from her two decade experience working with those who have suffered emotional neglect as children, rather than from rigorously controlled scientific experimentation.

Resources:

Above ebook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click HERE for details.

 

Hypnotherapy MP3, also available for instant download, entitled : ‘Meet Your Human Needs’.

Click HERE for more information.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

Psychotic Delusions: The Main Types

 

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that those who have suffered severe childhood trauma are more likely to develop various psychiatric conditions in adult life than those who avoided such experiences (all else being equal).

Two of these conditions : A) DEPRESSION WITH PSYCHOTIC FEATURES (click here to read my article about the link between childhood trauma and depression) and B) SCHIZOPHRENIA (click here to read my article about the link between childhood trauma and SCHIZOPHRENIA) may involve the sufferer developing psychotic delusions.

In this article, I will first define the term ‘PSYCHOTIC DELUSION’ and, then, describe the main types of such delusions:

What Is Meant By The Term ‘PSYCHOTIC DELUSION?’

A PSYCHOTIC DELUSION results from a THOUGHT DISORDER that gives rise to BLATANTLY FALSE BELIEFS. Whilst the belief is clearly and obviously false, the person who holds it has an UNSHKEABLE BELIEF that the belief is true, even in the face of utterly overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Classification of delusions:

Delusions can be classified as follows:

They can be:

A) Bizarre or non-bizarre

and:

B) Mood-congruent or mood- incongruent

I define these classifications below:

BIZARRE – extremely strange and odd beliefs that are CLEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. For example, a belief that the birds’ singing is really Morse code and they are communicating with each other in such code in order to form a plot to take over the world.

NON- BIZARRE – the belief held is still clearly wrong but, theoretically, not totally impossible. For example, a belief that the government has placed listening devices in every room of one’s house.

MOOD – CONGRUENT – the delusion is in line with the mood the person manifests as a result of his/her condition. For example, a depressed individual who believes that aliens have removed the part of his/her brain the used to give rise to the experience of pleasure. Or, a person who is manic may believe s/he has supernatural powers

MOODINCONGRUENT – the delusion is not obviously in line with the individual’s prevailing mood  (eg. a newsreader on the TV is talking about him/her. These are sometimes referred to as ‘mood-neutral’ delusions

Within these classification groups, delusions can also be of a specific type. I list these types below:

   – Delusions of jealousy : an all-consuming obsession that one’s partner is being unfaithful when there is no evidence this is the case and there is no objective reason for suspicion.

   – Delusions of nihilism : the belief that oneself, other people or the world do not really exist

   – Delusions of grandeur ,: a belief one is a person of massive importance such as Jesus, Emperor of the World etc. Or the belief one has made a great achievement (that the world refuses to recognise) such as a belief one has written plays vastly superior to those of Shakespeare when, in reality, they are barely literate.

– Delusions of control : a belief that one is having one’s thoughts and behaviour controlled by an external force eg. by aliens

Delusions of reference : a clearly false belief that people are talking about one or making reference to one when they are not eg. a belief that the newsreader on the radio is always referring to one in a or a coded or indirect manner

Delusions of guilt : a false belief one is responsible for some terrible event (such as a belief one is personally responsible for all the starving people in the world

Erotomania : the belief a famous person or person of high status (normally a person the sufferer of the delusion has never met) is deeply and passionately in love with one ( click here to read my article on this)

Delusions of mind-reading : the belief that others are reading one’s mind

Delusions of persecution : the belief that others are conspiring against one ( eg trying to poison or drug one)

Religious delusions: Delusions with a religious theme eg that one is a human incarnation of God

Somatic delusions : these are delusions about one’s body ( eg that ants are crawling under one’s skin)

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE (FAHE).