Mental health

Trauma Confession Series: Self-Harm & Letting Go

No where in this world is safe when your abuser’s words run laps in your head, circling and creating negative thoughts. Abuse kills from a distance too. -Kellie Jo Holly, Healthy Place Trigger Warning: Mention of self-harm. Dear Readers, Welcome to the end of the Trauma Confession Series! I hope it has aided you in some way. If you’re an abuse survivor, you may find that motivational self-talk doesn’t exist in your repertoire. When you become victimized by others one of two things will happen. You may externlize your suffering in explosive outbursts of anger resulting in misdirected harm toward others, or you may deeply internalize the dialogue and engage in self-injury. In my case, I know the latter to be true. I was 14 the first time I cut myself. I was in a long-distance relationship with a well-intended though very controlling person at the time. He also used this maladaptive coping skill, and was the first person to place this impulse in my mind. Add to that an entire subculture of teens in my school district who were also utilizing self injury to cope with an insufficient home life and the stressors of adolescence. When banded together in secrecy, this phenomenon quickly grew from superficial trendiness to deep winding incisions made by embedding razor blades all over my body. In general, I have found that I have an addictive personality. I turned to substance abuse and unhealthy relationship patterns at a very young age. I believe this to be a result of poor examples in my environment that reflected my self worth, or lack thereof, and a complete lack of meaningful guidance from my elders. None the wiser, I soon found myself flailing in frantic efforts to avoid my pain. I would go on to inflict harm on myself with increasing severity for one more year in secrecy. Soon, my self injury grew beyond my ability to manage it and people began to take notice. This pushed my self harm to exponentially higher levels for the next ten years. The trouble with self injury is that while it is certainly a poor coping skill, it is a coping skill nonetheless – and it works. Many people who report on self harm will tell you they do it to serve as a distraction, to reflect their inner turmoil on their external canvas, to release the endorphins that can soothe emotional distress, to function as a cry for help, and/or to indulge in the addiction that may develop apart from outward circumstances. There has been a great deal of research on this topic in recent years. Some Facts – 1 in 12 teens engage in some form of self injury such as cutting, burning, or other life threatening behavior. Women are more susceptible to self injurious behavior than men. Men engage on a more dangerous scale of self harm, including increased rates of suicide completion. About 50 percent of those who engage in self mutilation begin around age 14 and carry on into their 20s. Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the U.S. While my relationship to self harm was definitely prolonged by my attempts to emotionally regulate myself, it was also a reflection of and exacerbated by the abuse I suffered. If you come to feel your personal truth is worthless, flawed, or somehow deserving it will likely be reflected in the personal narrative you tell yourself. Fortunately, this can be changed. One of the key components of my many years in therapy was understanding the power of negative thinking. The abuse dynamic is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that it can reinforce the negative thoughts we have about our own sense of self worth. It is quite obvious how easily one can become intertwined in this mind trap, but it is important that you know this is a lie. This re-victimization can prolong suffering, and often frustrates friends and family who want to help. Ultimately, this path lead me to two suicide attempts, two inpatient psychiatric hospital stays averaging between four and nine days, five medications, and six diagnoses. In some ways, I believe I am responsible for re-traumatizing myself and extending my road to recovery. My mental health history is a result of both genetics and environment. I suffered an intensely abusive and abandoning childhood. I also had a succession of unhealthy romantic relationships as a teen and young adult. I have confirmed cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, addiction, and completed suicide running through my family history. This is relevant because it both validates my experience, and allows me to drive a wedge between myself and my episodic symptoms long enough to separate myself from the jargon, and truly get to the heart of the matter. This separation seems paramount to wellness, and is not something many people can achieve. Naturally, our identities become intertwined with our suffering over time. This is an error. I am not going to spill a bunch of hogwash to you about positive thinking in the face of abuse. Instead, I will remind you that YOU ARE WORTHY, YOU ARE NOT DESERVING OF PUNISHMENT OR DEATH, and SELF UNDERSTANDING IS THE CORNERSTONE OF RECOVERY. After ten years of therapy, there was one psychiatrist who narrowed down my self depreciating behavior in five minutes. He illuminated for me what is called an Obsessive Compulsive Personality. He illustrated that as a result of my chaotic and traumatic life I had tethered myself to a vehement need for control. However illusory, this belief system convinced me I was somehow protecting myself by controlling all the variables. The problem is this is virtually impossible, a phantasm survival tactic, and severely consequential to interpersonal relationships. Whenever I was placed in a situation I could not control, a work environment for example, I would internalize all my anxiety only to spill it all over my friends and family where I subconsciously found the consequences to be minimal. This would lead to unbearable guilt, and was reflected in my subsequent eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. This introduced me to the art of letting go, and suddenly things became clearer. This very same concept can be applied to our past grievances, however heinous. For some reason, we as humans attach value and a reflection of self to our circumstances. This doesn’t have to be the case. I still have hard days with a touch of self-loathing. This is mostly a function of unrelated mental illness, or my own poor decision making that resulted from various forms of abuse, but I no longer engage in self injury, substance abuse, or risk taking behavior. When I become triggered, my family keeps me grounded. My family is my reason. Do not let your past hijack the present moment. Acknowledge the experience. Accept the truth. Allow the grief. Understand your psychology. Confront the closure. Take action or inaction. Let. It. Go. **If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at!** For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide! In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

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