Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm.

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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:

-skin cutting
-skin burning
-compulsive skin picking
-self-hitting
-self-biting
-hair pulling
-interfering with wound healing
-swallowing foreign objects
-pulling off nails

Whilst it sounds counter-intuitive, self-harm is fundamentally a COPING MECHANISM born out of trauma and a profound sense of powerlessness.

‘PAIN-EXCHANGE’.

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.

INDIRECT SELF-HARM.

Not all self-harm is direct. Indirect methods include:

-substance misuse
-gambling
-extreme risk-taking
-anorexia/bulimia
-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:

-physical/sexual/emotional abuse
-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’m unlovable
-I’m inferior
-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).