Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm :
Three key elements to reducing our risk of harming ourselves are:
1) distracting our thoughts away from self-harm
2) reducing the intensity of our emotional arousal to levels which we are able to manage
3) dealing with internal critical ‘voices’ (ie thought processes).
However, as self-harming is often deeply ingrained, we cannot expect instantaneous results. It needs working at.
Let’s look at each of the 3 elements in turn:
1) DISTRACTION: these can be very simple things such as listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk or a run, reading, calling a friend, browsing the internet, doing something creative like art or craft (eg making a collage), taking a bath, and keeping a journal or diary (including writing down our feelings).
2) REDUCING THE INTENSITY OF OUR EMOTIONAL AROUSAL: one way to do this is to get the painful emotion out. Again, there are simple ways to accomplish this. They include: going for a run, punching a punch bag (or even a pillow), writing a letter to, for example, our parents (without actually sending it), writing out our feelings in a journal, calling a crisis line, going to an online chatline/support group and sharing our feelings, writing poetry about how we feel, playing moving music/crying.
RELEASING ANGER SAFELY:
Sometimes our anger can overwhelm us, so it is important to be able to discharge it in a safe way. Those of us who have experienced childhood trauma have very frequently been taught to blame ourselves. This can result in remaining angry at ‘the child within us’. It is therefore necessary to realize:
a) this child did nothing wrong and does not deserve our anger.
b) the anger needs to be appropriately and safely redirected at those who caused our childhood trauma (in a way which is not destructive to ourselves or them).
c) FEELING angry is not the same as EXPRESSING anger, so does no harm: so we don’t need to fear these angry feelings.
d)we need to stop repressing or misdirecting our anger (at those who do not deserve it – known as DISPLACEMENT in psychodynamic theory) as this can lead to it becoming obsessive.
e) we need to learn to express our anger safely, appropriately and positively. For example, writing a letter we have no intention of sending in order to release our pent up feelings, taking up Judo or a martial art, role playing with a friend or counsellor ( saying to him/her what we would like to say to those who caused our childhood trauma).
SOME DOs AND DON’Ts RELATED TO ANGER:
A acknowledge anger
N nip it in the bud
G get help for your anger if necessary (eg anger management classes)
E express anger constructively
R release anger appropriately and let it go
A avoid it
N numb it with food/ illicit drugs/alcohol etc
G grin and grit your teeth (ie suppress it as it will just ‘fester’)
R rationalize it (ie explain it away)
3) DEALING WITH OUR INTERNAL CRITICAL ‘VOICES’: growing up with negative parents leaves many of us with a lot of negative messages running around our heads – we may have had horrible things said about us so often that we have INTERNALIZED them (ie come to see them as true so they form the basis of our self-concept). As adults, we first need to acknowledge that we have these self-lacerating thoughts. This is because the attempt to ignore them can paradoxically make them all the more intense and tenacious.
We may come to notice triggers for these thoughts. For example, if someone is just slightly off-hand with us we may feel we must be a horrible person who everyone will always reject as a matter of course. The root of this may be that we were rejected by one or both of our parents. Being able to trace our self-critical thoughts back to their roots in such a way, and, therefore, understand their triggers, can reduce their intensity of them quite considerably.
In order to retrain the way we think about ourselves, it is helpful, every time we have a negative thought about ourselves, to replace it with a positive one. It can be helpful, too, to write those positive messages down and to keep them somewhere they can easily be retrieved so that we can, on occasion, read through them. It is even possible to make an audio file of them and listen to them occasionally.
As time goes on, it is necessary to let our self-critical messages go and to stop emotionally tormenting ourselves – instead, we need to treat ourselves with compassion.
When individuals come to the point that they are ready to stop hurting themselves with self-critical messages, some make a kind of ritual out of it such as writing down all the negative thoughts they used to have about themselves on a piece of paper and then burning it or tearing it up and throwing it away.
In summary, then, we need to realize that we have absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain, for either ourselves or others, by constantly emotionally torturing ourselves. It is necessary, instead, to start treating ourselves with the love and compassion which may well have been denied us in childhood. We can give ourselves the love and compassion the child within us deserves.
David Hosier. BSc (Hons); MSc; PGDE(FAHE).Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery