So why is it so hard to stop self-injury?
I mean, there are pages and pages of good distraction techniques out there in the world. Fifty really good ideas were mentioned in previous blog posts. Shouldn’t that be enough to make it stop?
For many people, it is not.
Why is it so very very difficult to change self-destructive behavior? Why do people hurt themselves?
“Why can’t I stop hurting myself?”
I’ve been asked that a million times, if I’ve been asked that once.
I don’t think there is one simple answer for that. In fact I know there is not one simple reason. There are more likely to be 100 different reasons, probably more. Self injury goes much deeper than the surface behavior. The roots go deep into family patterns, learnings, and thinking processes.
My best guess is that the thinking for Self-Injurers varies some from person to person, and the reasons for holding so tightly to self-injury are as individual as the individuals themselves.
However, over the years, I have seen and heard some repeating patterns while sitting with dissociative trauma survivors who have long, long histories of self-injury, self-destruction, and self-abuse. I am guessing that some of these ideas might apply to several of you.
Here are only 12 of the behind-the-behavior reasons for why some people can’t stop hurting themselves:
1. Self-injury was taught even to the young child as a good thing to do.
In this situation, the young person was admired for how much pain they could withstand, and the longer they could sit with the pain without flinching or fussing, the more praise and accolades they received. Self directed injury was defined as a good thing, and the young student was rewarded for learning to do so. These teachings could come from simple everyday family patterns, or they could have been part of complex layers of mind control instructions. Teaching is teaching, and learning is learning. When people are taught to hurt themselves, they learn to hurt themselves, and they do it. Over and over, especially when they are rewarded for doing so. So it continues on for years of time until they learn something new.
2. In some families, self-injury is a much more acceptable or desired behavior in the family belief system than the expression of true emotion and genuine feeling.
In these situations, the person would have been told over and over that crying was a bad thing, or they would have been punished for showing anger, or humiliated for having fear.
So, for example, the person figures out that they can quietly cut or burn or purge themselves without getting in trouble, but they are severely chastised or punished if they are seen crying or yelling or quivering. Take the time to examine your family’s rules and beliefs. Do you still agree with these concepts? Do you have the courage to do something different from what your family expected of you? Are you willing to break old family rules?
3. In many dysfunctional relationships, the expression of feelings were so completely suppressed and not-allowed that the person learned to use SI as their “release” of feelings, instead of using healthier or more regular ways of expression.
They learned to use self-injury as their default method of emotional expression, and/or self-harm became the quickest way to reach emotional numbing, frantically but easily stopping as much feeling as quickly as possible. Reversing this process will take a lot of work, but it can be done. At this point in time, you can decide if you want to keep self-destructive patterns, or if you are willing to try natural means of expression. Are you willing to let yourself cry? If you could cry, would you allow it? Are you brave enough to show anger? Are you willing to sit with your own emotions and feelings without pushing them away?
4. Years and years of learning and repeated behaviors are very very hard to change.
Years of repetition are not easy to change, no matter the topic. They become second nature, and can happen before the person realizes it. Teaching the brain to do something new takes consistent, persistent, intense effort. Are you willing to let go of the “high” that comes with self the brain’s releases of chemicals after self injury? Teaching your body and your brain new behaviors can be a big job. You gotta really really really want to change in order to put in this much hard work. How hard are you willing to work at changing self-destructive behaviors? Are you willing to do what it takes to be healthier?
5. Fear of change.
This is probably based out of family learning too, but lots of dissociative insiders are really afraid to do or learn something new. “What if I get punished for doing something different from what I was taught to do?” Punished? Punished by who? Are there outside people in your life who would literally still punish you? If so, that’s an entirely big topic on its own because who are they and why do you still have contact with anyone that is violent or abusive or controlling of you in these harmful ways? Or, are you afraid of internal punishment? Why do those insiders still believe in physical punishment? Are you worried more about the past rules, and how many of these still apply in your everyday world today? What are you so afraid of and how can you address this fear without resorting to more self harm? These aren’t simple questions — they take a LOT of work to address them accurately.
6. Claiming or showing intense feelings of anger is so totally not-allowed, and / or so terrifying, that the person would genuinely rather use self-destructive behaviors instead of showing direct anger.
Anger is a tough emotion, especially for people who have spent a lot of time around abusive perpetrators who used anger in all the wrong ways. Feeling or showing anger does not have to equal being abusive. Having angry feelings does not make someone a predator. Separating the feelings of anger from abusive behaviors is an important part of allowing this natural feeling to surface without the “required” self abuse afterwards (or during). Why do you choose to self-harm instead of feeling or owning your anger? This too, is a very big question – take time to think about that one. What rules do you follow about having anger? Are these healthy rules?
7. Dissociation takes away the pain. Self-injury “doesn’t hurt”. “I can’t feel that.”
When a person has learned to dissociate pain, they don’t feel regular pain, not even self-injury. Without the “natural consequence” or the natural deterrent of pain , it is much harder to see the need to dislike or end or prevent self destructive behavior. For years of time, when long-neglected trauma survivors sit alone, trapped alone in their pain, even as young children, not receiving healthy comfort, those trauma survivors who were left alone in their pain learn to leave their pain any way they can. They dissociate from their body, which means dissociating away from the pain. Creating enough safety to stay in the body is important. And, finding healthy ways for comfort makes it more ok to sit with the reality of the hurts.
8. “I deserve punishment.” “I am bad.” “I don’t deserve kindness.” Or any other version of these negative, self-loathing thoughts.
When the underlying belief about the self changes to something more positive, and the need to punish – hurt – destroy the self will decrease accordingly. What will it take for you to have – earn – deserve – accept – expect to receive respect, kindness, gentleness, and caring for yourself? Selves? How rational are your beliefs about punishment? How much are they based on the past of decades ago, versus being genuinely applicable to today? Challenge yourself. Maybe just maybe you don’t need to be punished anymore. Maybe you aren’t nearly as bad as you believe yourself to be.
9. “I need to feel real or alive.” “The only way I feel real is if I see blood, or feel pain.”
These folks are typically so separated from their body, so separated from their selves, so depersonalized and detached, that they need some visual proof that they are not plastic or fake. Are there other ways that you can experience being alive? What can you do to waken your senses without having to hurt yourself or your body?
10. “It’s just the body. The body doesn’t matter.”
Ouch. Okay, I get the point. The heart, mind, spirit and soul hurt more than the body, and yes, on that level, the most important parts of yourself stay more deeply protected by the outer surface of the body. And insiders can separate and dissociate from the body anyway, and insiders have their own inside bodies, so yes, the connection with the outside body itself is a big topic all of its own. The body means something differently to the dissociative survivor than to others who cannot leave their body so easily. Separating from the body had its advantages. While this thinking has helped many survivors get through the pain of abuse, keeping this thinking allows the same disrespect of your body to continue. When can the body earn its place of respect as well? When can the body no longer be abused or traumatized or injured unfairly?
11. “Inside voices tell me too.”
For those with Dissociative Identity Disorder, this relates very much back to doing the system work and internal work necessary to resolve the troubles you are having. If someone inside is telling you to hurt yourself, who is saying that to you? And why? And what will happen if you don’t do it? What will happen if you refuse to hurt yourself? Why will that happen? Why are they saying this, and where did they learn about such destructive behavior? Are you showing them that they don’t have to be so destructive anymore? And if they truly believe this, do you understand why that is true for them? Lots and lots of internal communication is needed here. And each of those insiders that are involved in self-harming behaviors need to be walked through this list on their own to discover what is going on for them individually.
12. Lost time. “I didn’t even know it happened.”
For lots of folks with Dissociative Identity Disorder, self-harm happens when you have switched to others in your system. Addressing this kind of self harm goes back to the need to do some very serious system work and build better internal communication. Find out who these parts are, and nurture a positive relationship with them. Learn why they cut. What triggers them? What sets them off? Why do they cut? Do you understand them? Until you learn more about these parts of your system, you may very well be kept in the dark, behind an amnesiac wall while they come out and do whatever it is that they need to do.
Obviously, to successfully address self-harm issues, it takes much more than replacing those behaviors with a distraction technique. However, the distraction techniques can be enormously helpful to use while you are addressing any of the concerns mentioned above,
My thought is, you’ve been hurt more than enough already. You really don’t need or deserve any more pain. Getting hurt so much didn’t help you.
It didn’t help you then, and it won’t help you now.
Instead, be kind to yourself instead. Be gentle. Treat yourself with the tenderness and soft caring you should ave had all these years.
You don’t have to be hurt anymore.
- 25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm
- 50 Treatment Issues for Dissociative Identity Disorder
- 25 More Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm
Copyright © 2008-2017 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
WOW. This was insightful.
Every single one of of these things is true for us. I havent ever technically self injured, but I guess that because I am anorexic that it could be that also. That’s something big I certainly need to work on.
Number 8, about deserving to be punished, is the one I have some inside kids really dealing with the past couple weeks. They insist that “everyone knows how bad they are still.” Theyre really a lot of negative things, They are more determined to punish themselves, even the ones who had given up the “Im so bad” thinking a long while ago.
I am hoping that me helping get the system calm, and letting these young ones know that its ok to express their feelings around me, is going to help them.
Also, we are constantly on guard to make sure they dont hurt the body. Its a big challenge but they have to realize those behaviors are harmful and unacceptable no matter how much they may hate themselves But I am hoping that these huge feelings theyre having, and this self hate, will pass eventually.
i have been thinking about this a lot the past few days because this has been a really tough week and also lots of self injuring going on. i think that every single reason listed here is true for us. i do not do it myself (caden ) but there are several others inside who do. it is a bit hard for my to understand why they think its ok. and those that know it is not ok still do it for other reasons listed. It is a real beast to get under control. we have been doing this since we were 8 (claire was the first one, and we still remember that day very clearly, ) I wish thar 40 years later we were not still dealing with this,
Caden…I understand your “wish”…..I lived in SI throughout my Outside teenage years…it was an Inside unending river and I couldn’t understand how NO ONE on the Outside could see all the pain I was in….I KNEW I was a volcano of pain and rage…but had no idea “why” – and STILL don’t….even with visual cries for help – NO ONE “heard”…….that was 50 years ago…and I am STILL dealing with it…..
It did finally go into the “background” some (except for the occasional “out of the blue wave” of it) – STILL with no understanding…..other parts stepped to the front to get us through a “fairly normal” looking life….but now some “walls” are crumbling and it feels like “we” are “back in our teenage years”…….
Maybe somehow – at some point – enough pieces will come together and enough “threads” will connect that “understanding” will come…..I HAVE managed to see that with the triggerings there are undercurrent “waves” of betrayal, abandonment, deception…and some type of “fear” beyond comprehension…..NONE of which makes sense to my “brain”……so – I “wonder” if I am making all that up…..(sometimes I wonder about my “sanity”….)
When I read or hear – even now – about anyone attempting or accomplishing suicide – my heart breaks for them…..I can’t help but wonder about the INTENSE level of Internal pain they were in….I have heard people say that it is the “most selfish” thing anyone can do…..I DO – in one sense – get what they are saying with that….but MY opinion is that the “greater selfishness” was in those who knew the person and REFUSED to see or hear their cries for help before it happened….they didn’t have the time or especially – the patience to deal with such “weakness” in “such people” and considered them nothing more than “attention getters”……
I am NOT talking in ANY way about those who DID see and hear and tried to help – but for whatever unknown reason “failed”….I am talking about those who automatically condemn the “act” (and the person) simply because they had no time for such “weakness”……..Maybe such people need to take a good long look at the depth of their own hearts and find out “why” they felt that way….where are THOSE feelings coming from…..?????
We ALL have areas in our lives that need to be “worked on”…..NONE of us are exempt…..we all have a chance to be “a bit more of something or a bit less of something” tomorrow than we saw in ourselves today……Hope I wasn’t being TOO “soap-boxy” – it is just that I have heard too many people “condemn” what they don’t want to be bothered with understanding…….
Hang in there, caden….I believe insight and understanding WILL eventually come in measures…and will give us an even greater heart willing to hear and understand others…….
I used to be totally incapable of understanding why SI was bad. My T try to explain it to no avail. Lotsa times.
But now I not SI, and it even kinda horrify me the odd time when I get a small urge to si.
Real 180 turn.
That’s good I reckon.
i am alone.im not talking about inside people. there is no point in trying anymore. no point in reaching out. no point in asking for hel becasue no on in my real life cares. sorry for this stupid post. i sound like a stupid teenager which everyone hates.
Not stupid. Stupid doesn’t live here. Just folks who care live here in the Kathy house. I am not a teenager yet. Almost there. I am 12. Some teenagers inside where I live. Don’t talk to them. They don’t talk to me. They live in another place. I help with the little ones. Don’t think teenagers are stupid. Maybe big people be stupid not listening to teenagers and little people. That’s what I think. Kathy’s house is full of nice people Jodie. I don’t talk much cause that is just my way. But I listen okay. So, you don’t need to be alone in Kathy’s house okay. Maybe some other teenagers will come and we can have our own chill room in Kathy’s house and no big people allowed. Or little people. Could sure use a chill out from the littles.
Ok … got to go.
all of these.
and i am so lonely. and have stupid flashbacks. and still live in 1989.but i think my biggest reason is just because i dont feel worth anything- so who cares what happens to me. i am invisible. no one notices or cares how i am doing. and if i dont care, why should they care, and if they dont care, why should i care? no one wants to talk to me- i dont blame them. no one notices when i do something right, either. so who cares if i cut, or throw up, or whatever. it doesnt matter what i do. no one asks anymore, and i dont tell.
I hear and I care and I am sure that a lot of others here do as well. I am sorry that no one on the inside talks with you. You are certainly welcome to talk here. And, I sure would not like to see you hurt yourself any more. You are not alone here Jodie.
have not hurt the body in a long while. but 2,5,8 all the most true at some point.
thinking about it again. haven’t acted yet.
Hold tight and encourage your insiders to be compassionate with themselves and one another and not hurt yous. Yous have all been hurt enough. No more hurting okay? If you feel like hurting, write here instead.
Sending positive thoughts and energy.
while i agree with the article, i feel like the poster about being at war with one’s self makes me feel a bit uneasy. “Life is too short to spend on having war with ourselves” sounds like we’re the ones creating the war and wanting the war to take place. We don’t want to have the war and we wouldn’t pray for spending our lives being in a war.
So yeah, thought I’d bring it up :/
Lovely article as per usual, Kathy!
Years and years of learning and repeated behaviors are very very hard to change.
My t suggested this is like a starving person…someone malnourished can’t just g somewhere and eat a huge meal…They will get sick. Their stomachs aren’t used to solid, nourishing foods, they must take things slowly. We are beginning to realize this is what needs to happen for the one who is so used to making the body sick.
We are just praying we get to the point where something “clicks” before she destroys this body we all inhabit.
What if we can’t figure out the reasoning behind parts that want to make the body ill?
Kathy, it’s not about cutting, we are trying to figure out why this part wants to make us really SICK. We can’t figure out her motivations. It’s frightening how sick we’ve been due to things being injected. We are not talking about drugs either.
Ugh. Wish there was something we could do to fix this. Isolation isn’t working
Is goal is to stop us telling what happened. Were not supposed to say to anyone or there will be trouble. He makes trouble. The girls want to say. I don’t know if he wants to hurt us or try and stop us getting into trouble. Its nice you don’t think I’m crazy. What’s going on is we got a T who is really nice and we trust her. She is learning as we go but that’s OK cause so am I.
Can really relate to 7 9 10 and 12. I often find the evidence with no memory of the event. One of my others likes to cut, and another sometimes beats up this body at night I think – he wants to keep us quiet. He shouts and hits and scares everyone. I am trying hard to stop with the self harm. Think it will be a work in progress for a long time. Your writing is really helpful. I read here a lot for a long time, it helps me feel less alone and crazy. Thankyou.
Kathy Broady says
Thank you for your comments. It’s nice to meet you, especially since you’ve been reading here for a long time. I’m glad my writing is helpful for you. You are definitely not alone, and I don’t hear anything that sounds crazy. It sounds to me like you’ve got some angry someone who is needing some extra time in your healing work to figure out why he needs to be so scary and mean to the others inside. That’s probably old, familiar trauma-related behavior, so maybe you can help him figure out something better, and more effective than just going around being a big bully to everyone.
Who is he copying, and why?
What would happen to him if he didn’t act like such a big bully to everyone?
What’s going on that he feels like he needs to act like that?
And he’s trying to keep you quiet from what, and how are people not being quiet?
If people were to stay quiet, would he stop being so angry?
What does he think would happen if you weren’t quiet?
Lots and lots of questions to ask — those are just a few to think about. But the more you understand what is going on for him, and the more you understand his motivations, the better your ability will be to help him find a kinder, gentler way to approach his deeper goal.
I’m glad you found the courage to post!
And, I wish you the best in your healing journey —
Kathy, it’s SO helpful when you ask questions like this and respond. I’ve been doing what I can to empathize with a part that self-harms to keep us from expressing emotions or saying anything to stay “safe…” for over fifteen years which makes it very difficult to feel or think or say anything in therapy or even our own head. Figuring out what to even ask can be difficult! Thank you for taking the time to respond to your readers and encourage them to connect and question with those who are hurting deeply and understand them rather than make them feel worse for doing all they know to do. (:
Thanks for sharing!
This is a really useful post. Thanks for sharing 🙂
The top ones are definitely true for missy. I am trying to figure out how to help her.
Reblogged this on Many of us's blog and commented:
For years we have self harmed, not everyone in the sysem does it, but a good number do, they do it for many reasons, to feel, to know they are alive and not dead, to stop the hurt and pain. This post explains in great detail why self harm is an addiction.
Wow, eye opening Blog! Thanks for sharing and for your honesty!
Kathy Broady says
Welcome to Discussing Dissociation, and thank you kindly for your comment — really glad this article was helpful.
Please keep reading. and keep on finding that courage!
Thank you Kathy! I will definitely continue to follow your Blog. – Dawn
Reblogged this on The Shattered Memory of a Broken Girl and commented:
i have self-injured at one point or another because of literally all these reasons, pretty much. :S
We still is thinking abot this kathey
Reblogged this on San Diego Therapy Blog.
All these be true for us i think . We been thinking lots abot this evin missy been. But not today today be a bad day we dont care what hapins to this stupid body on this day
*12 is the answer for me/we 🙁
Have been trying to build some communication with those parts who engage in all sorts of `self` injury /risky behaviour for years (as has my T) and have got nowhere with it.
Sometimes, I doubt we ever will.
It has a huge (negative) effect on child parts who are very frightened by it, but the only feeling Ive got from one of the parts who self injures is a very strong “don’t care about how they feel. they deserve everything bad”. As I say, that wasn’t actually *said* but was a feeling.
It`s exhausting, depressing and often hopeless to exist like this, but thank you so much for sharing this article.
I had a part that SI to control young parts.
Once we had a safe contained place that was nicer for the young ones, we put them there. They are ok there, it’s not a bad place. Now that part does not have to scare them away etc anymore by SI.
That was just one reason for SI. But usu the most damaging SI was this reason we just said.