Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm
Many research studies (e.g. Arnold, 1995) have demonstrated a link between having been abused as a child and self-harm. In one study, 84% of individuals who self-harmed reported that childhood trauma had contributed to their condition.
WHAT IS SELF-HARM?
The following are examples:
-compulsive skin picking
-interfering with wound healing
-swallowing foreign objects
-pulling off nails
Self-harm has been described as a kind of ‘pain-exchange’. This means invisible, extreme emotional pain is converted into visible, physical wounds. After a period of self-injury, individuals report feeling calmer and more able to cope. Self-injuring causes the brain to release ‘natural pain killers’ which may have the twin effect of diminishing psychological pain. A further theory is that, due to an individual’s self-loathing (see later in the post), self-injury acts as a form of self-punishment which the individual consciously or unconsciously believes s/he deserves.
Typically, people who self-harm are emotionally fragile and highly sensitive to rejection.
Not all self-harm is direct. Indirect methods include:
-staying in an abusive relationship
With these, the damage is not immediate, but, rather, they are physically and/or psychologically damaging over the long-term.
TYPES OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ASSOCIATED WITH SELF-HARM.
The following have been found to be associated with self-harm:
-loss of primary caregiver (e.g. through a divorce)
-having ’emotionally absent’ parent/s
-growing up in a chaotic family (e.g. due to parental mental health problems)
-being raised in the care system
-role reversal in a child-parent relationship (e.g. child acting as a disturbed parent’s counsellor)
Furthermore, many who self-harm have NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS such as the following:
-I am bad/evil
-I am worth nothing
-I shouldn’t have been born
-I’m never good enough
-I don’t deserve to be happy
-I don’t fit in anywhere
-there’s something wrong with me
Such beliefs lead to SELF-LOATHING and EXTREME LOW SELF-ESTEEM. This in turn leads to emotional distress which can trigger acts of self-harm such as those illustrated in this article.
David Hosier BSc(Hons); MSc; PGDE(FAHE).