Why Self Harm? (Article)

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!

Why self-harm?

Cutting brings relief because emotion and pain criss-cross in the brain. Can we untangle the circuits and stop self-harm?

“Over the years, I’ve tried to explain self-injury to my therapists, my parents, my friends and, most recently, my husband. Everyone has the same plaintive question: ‘Why?’ Mostly, I just shrug my shoulders and mutter: ‘Dunno.’ I don’t tell them that I am asking the same question of myself. I don’t enjoy the process, nor do I like the scars. It’s shameful and embarrassing. I desperately wanted to stop, but one thing kept getting in my way: after I cut, I felt better.”

“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.”


9 thoughts on “Why Self Harm? (Article)

  1. I can relate to a lot of things that were written in this really interesting article.
    I had two major reasons at different times for hurting myself. The first one was to feel something. At some dark periods in life I was so numb, so drained, I felt nothing. I wasn’t even sure I was here in this world. t needed to feel something, anything so badly that I resorted to physical pain to remind myself that I do exist, that I am here.
    At other times it was punishment, and usually went hand in hand with emotional torture like telling myself I was unworthy of happiness, unworthy of love, unworthy of life – and I had to punish myself physically and emotionally to compensate for the fact that I even exist.

  2. Yes, cutting or scratching (as i mostly did) has a calming effect. But now, when I am agitated at home, I get a bucket of ice water and plunge my feet and hands into it. it makes me want to scream but it takes that desire to cut away most of the time.
    My book list is getting very long thanks to you! 😉

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