Found an amazing article on self harm this morning while scrolling through Facebook. The author combines her personal experience with self harm with academic research. Seriously, it’s pretty great!
Cutting brings relief because emotion and pain criss-cross in the brain. Can we untangle the circuits and stop self-harm?
“Gould and Pyle classified this ritualistic self-harm as a form of hysteria, and the women who engaged in it as deceitful and attention-seeking. In fact, until the early 2000s, most of the clinical literature classified self-injury with more severe psychiatric disorders such as psychosis and borderline personality disorder, a state of inner chaos and instability, especially where relationships are concerned.”
“‘Some women who self-injured were hospitalised every time they cut themselves, which could be hundreds of times over their lifetime. They essentially lived in hospitals,’ said Wendy Lader, the clinical director of a US self-abuse programme and one of the first psychologists to treat self-injury. ‘People thought I was crazy when I said that many of these people could be treated as outpatients because they weren’t necessarily suicidal.’”
“Compared against 47 controls, the individuals who self-harmed were able to leave their hands in the ice-cold water longer, indicating a diminished pain perception. Franklin also found that those with the greatest difficulties in regulating and responding to emotions were also able to withstand the pain the longest. It was as if their emotional pain was distracting them from the physical pain.”
“Yet cutters such as me didn’t self-harm to deal with physical pain. We hurt ourselves to cope with emotional pain. Neuroscience is showing how these two factors intertwine. When we get dumped by a romantic partner, we are heartbroken. Anxiety winds us up and leaves us ready to snap. Rage clenches our fists in hate. Emotions are psychological, but they are also physical. When it comes to sensing physical and emotional pain, our brains use the same two areas: the anterior insula, a small patch of neural real estate that’s part of the cerebral cortex behind each ear, and the anterior cingulate cortex, a hook-shaped piece of brain tissue towards the front of the brain. These are the areas in the brain that process pain, regardless of whether we’ve felt the sting of rejection or the sting of a bee.”