How to Avoid Self-Injury as a Trauma Coping Strategy

Most of my clients who self-injure tell me they cut or burn themselves in order to feel better. They self-injure when they are experiencing overwhelming emotions or dealing with past traumas they can’t handle. Temporarily, they feel better, but nothing actually changes. They are still faced with the same terrible upsets.

What are the steps to avoiding this self-destructive coping strategy?

First, it’s important to understand the underlying pain. Why is life overwhelmingly painful? What is the trauma or situation causing the pain? Knowing this makes sense of the cutting or burning.

There need to be less harmful ways of immediately dealing with intolerable pain. An ice pack instead of cutting or burning may help. Running cold water over the arms is a technique used by many of the people. Exhausting yourself physically by running or beating a pillow can drain off the pain. There is also medication available which prevents the “high” from cutting.

Often people who self-harm describe a deadening numbness. They are desperate to feel. They’ll do anything to cut through the numbness. That is why they harm themselves.

Others know no other way of expressing anger. They need to learn how to safely vent their rage. Still others are so filled with self-hate, that they punish themselves by harming the body.

It’s hard for those of us who have never felt the urge to self-harm to understand, but cutting and burning is often a form of self-soothing. It lets out the pain. The person feels calmer after cutting or burning.  Pain causes the body to release its natural endorphins.  The person experiences a “high.” Think of self-harming as the drug of choice.

It’s even harder for most of us to understand the magical thinking that may be involved. It goes like this: if I hurt myself I have control over anything worse happening.

I hope you will comment below and tell us what you know about this secret, but common, form of self-soothing.

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