Millions of American teenagers and adults will voluntarily injure themselves today. Some will cut themselves with a knife or razor Others will burn their skin with matches or a cigarette. Some will hit themselves or bang their heads against a wall, or pull out their hair, or stick needles into or pick at their skin or break their own bones. Millions more will do this tomorrow, and next week, and during the coming year. The behavior of self-harm appears to be on the increase worldwide. But why?
Before anyone can evaluate a human behavior, they must first attempt to understand it. The initial question I ask myself is, “What purpose does this behavior serve?” My next question would be, “Might we come up with a better way to achieve the desired result?” The final question I would ask is, “Does a safe and natural way exist to reliably deliver the relief these sufferers need?”
Let me say up front that the answer to this final question is a definite YES!
Retired from the traditional practice of medicine, I now work fulltime as an Anxiety Relief Specialist. After more than 30 years of practicing medicine, however, it is my opinion that the last thing most people need today is one more prescription. Before discussing the method that is working so well, permit me to share answers to earlier questions I’ve asked. Let’s explore the who, what, where, why, and when of self-injury.
While the majority consists of young women between ages 13 and 25, both men and women voluntarily injure themselves. Most do so from the early teens to mid-life and beyond. While they may occupy any position in society, nearly all have a common history—they were abused as children. Such abuses range from not receiving sufficient love and attention from alcoholic or mentally-ill parents, or being ignored by self-absorbed or physically-absent parents, to overt verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. The common denominator is that each of these victims feels severe, deep, and ongoing emotional pain.
The type of self-injury discussed here includes repeatedly inflicting superficial pain and damage by cutting the skin (often with a razor,) burning, picking at, hitting, scratching, or otherwise damaging the skin and superficial structures. On occasion, this may even include breaking bones. The effect is to cause physical pain, visibly release blood, and produce scars. People who repetitively injure themselves generally do so for one of two reasons:
1) Many victims obtain relief from their enormous emotional pain when they inflict certain types of physical pain.
2) Others, because of their relentless and unbearable inner emotional pain, have trained their nervous systems not to feel anything at all. The result is that they crave sensation in order to prove that they are alive.
The truth is that these victims have stumbled onto a fairly reliable method. They have discovered that painful mental or emotional states can be improved by stimulation of physical structures. Hang onto this concept. It is the basis for the revolutionary self-help method that is proving not only to be safer than self-injury, but far more effective for relieving emotional suffering.
Self-injury typically takes place in secret—most often behind locked doors in the victim’s room or other private and secluded areas.
The objective is to reduce emotional pain by inflicting physical pain. These victims suffer enormous and unrelenting emotional pain. Injuring themselves physically is the only reliable method that most have found to obtain relief, however briefly. In short, they do it because it works. Injuring themselves makes them feel better for awhile.
Victims resort to self-injury whenever they feel overwhelmed by anger, fear, frustration, guilt, shame, remorse, self-hatred, rage, etc. Their storage capacity for bad feelings is often so crammed full that any unpleasant event—a hurtful statement, questioning look, disappointing action, or insult or any kind—will spill over the top and push them over the emotional edge. At such times, they feel driven to seek relief the only way they know how—by injuring themselves. The compulsive cycle rapidly becomes an addiction.
Wouldn’t you also like to understand how and why childhood abuse so often results in the need to self-injure? Here’s what I have found.
The victim is obvious. This includes any person abused as a child, who later feels driven by their inner emotional pain to injure themselves for relief.
The perpetrator of the abuse is nearly always one or both parents, a grandparent, close relative, or guardian. Such abusers may be mentally ill, alcohol or drug users, physically ill, incapacitated, absent from the home (voluntary or involuntary abandonment,) or so ignorant, mentally retarded, or self-absorbed that they are emotionally unavailable to their child. Some are violent by nature (often reflecting their own abusive upbringing,) and/or sexual deviants and predators. Others simply don’t “get it,” and have no concept of a child’s emotional needs.
Child abuse ranges from a child being totally ignored by its parents or caregivers, to one who is repeatedly beaten, tortured, or raped. In between are those who receive little or no affection or validation that they exist as valuable human beings. Some are tormented by psychotic parents, others left to fend for themselves by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents. Some are physically abandoned, others may be emotionally abandoned. Some are touched too often and in inappropriate places. Others are never touched at all. All suffer enormous damage.
Similar to early cave dwellers, the home represents a safe haven from the dangers that abound in the outside world. A child looks to its parents as the gatekeepers of this safe inside world. Parents are relied upon to the exclusion of all others to keep their child safe. This includes delivering food, shelter, affection (including physical touch and recognition,) and the nurturing and guidance that all developing animals need for normal development. This safe haven would be the worst possible place where one could suffer abuse. And this is exactly where most childhood abuse occurs. When its protector turns against a child—such as in a violent rage or sexual frenzy—the signals received by the immature energy system are so confusing that they literally paralyze the system. A shock of this magnitude creates multiple short-circuits within the system itself. These interrupted circuits are responsible for the resulting negative emotions of fear, anger, frustration, rage, self-loathing, etc. Following an attack by its own protector, a child can never again feel completely safe in the world—at home or away. It will grow up hyper vigilant, anticipating danger at every turn. Mentally and emotionally hampered by this ever-present fear, the victim of child abuse will rarely think clearly or evaluate life’s challenges or opportunities in a normal fashion. Unless pro-actively corrected, the effects of such abuse extend throughout the victim’s lifetime. Until recently, no truly effective method has existed to correct the damage.
I’ve covered why the abuse happens—from damaged parents. But why does such abuse generate the need to self-injure?
Childhood is a time of growth and development. A child’s muscles are not as strong as those of an adult. Its bones are smaller and less rigid. Its hair and nails are finer, teeth and internal organs softer and more vulnerable to injury. Its skin is thinner and more fragile. The brain and nervous system of a child are also still-developing, so they are unprepared physically, chemically, or energetically to deal with the intense emotional or physical stresses that a mature adult might. The human brain and nervous system are powered by a circulating energy system that is the basis of all life. Chronic and repetitive stresses (such as the absence of affection, attention, or validation) or a major acute stress (physical or sexual violence/abuse) overwhelms this immature system to the point that critical portions shut down and cease all function. Lack of validation occurs when virtually every new idea presented by the developing youngster is quickly rejected or ridiculed. Some overly needy parents become defective role models for their child, who never learns effective coping skills for unpleasant situations.
The most common subjective result of such situations is an overpowering feeling of despair, anger, confusion, self-hatred, and depression.
The human brain and nervous system are not fully developed before approximately age 25. Severe emotional or physical trauma prior to this age can disrupt normal maturation. The younger the child, the more damaging a trauma is likely to be. The most damaging abuses typically occur between birth and age 15. They are rarely remembered prior to the age of 3 or 4 years. By age 15, most teens refuse to tolerate such abuse any longer. They either rebel or leave home.
ARE SELF-INJURERS NUTS?
Absolutely not. These victims suffer such severe internal agony that they must find relief in order to survive. Physically injuring themselves is the only method they have found that makes this possible. It is a definite survival mechanism, and a pretty darned good one at that. Most of the victims I’ve known who injure themselves are highly intelligent, creative, and quite sensitive. These qualities led them to discover this particular method of relief. These same qualities enable them to quickly put the behavior behind them, once they discover a more reliable method.
AREN’T THEY TRYING TO COMMIT SUICIDE?
Quite the contrary. People who attempt suicide want to die. Individuals who injure themselves in the manner discussed here want to survive and feel better.
HOW CAN INJURING YOURSELF MAKE ANYONE FEEL BETTER?
Some scientists believe that inflicting pain stimulates the release of natural endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are morphine-like chemicals that relieve pain, so they make us feel good. They can also become addicting. Other researchers see a connection between serotonin, self-directed aggression, impulse control, and moods. Serotonin is a “feel good” hormone. Some validity exists for each of these theories; however, there is an even more basic explanation of what’s going on.
The life force circulating throughout the body provides the energy that is essential for all human activities. Every particle of every cell requires energy in order to perform its normal functions. In turn, cells produce the necessary chemicals, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, etc as needed. This same energy enables cells to take in nutrition, digest and utilize it, perform their “duties,” communicate with other cells, eliminate waste products, reproduce themselves, and to repair themselves if injured. Space and time in this article don’t allow me to explain more fully, but understand that a trauma of sufficient magnitude (such as being abused as a child) interrupts this essential energy flow at multiple levels. Recent investigations have shown that these disruptions remain in place for the remainder of a person’s life, unless and until somebody knows how to remove them.
Each energy disruption generates a negative emotion. You know that something is wrong because this makes you feel bad. A bad feeling may be thought of as similar to a blinking warning light on the dashboard of a car. Each bad feeling (negative emotion) points to a specific energy disruption.
Fear exists whenever we are not in complete control of a situation. The deep emotional pain that victims of childhood abuse experience consists of fear. They feel that they have no control over their lives, and this makes them afraid. The act of exchanging one type pain for another restores a feeling of control. “This is something I can do right now to feel better.” Feeling better in this case may not be feeling good, but feeling less bad. Fear also disrupts energy flow. Taking control restores energy flow to a degree, so this makes the victim feel better.
Dr Bruce Lipton is a brilliant cellular biologist who showed us that the human body only recognizes two emotions: love and fear. We also know that all negative emotions represent fear. “Opening up” the skin to release “internal demons” of pain and fear is a primitive instinctive reaction. If something feels bad inside, we are compelled to open up the body and let the bad thing out.
A BETTER WAY
Scientifically speaking, there is a far more effective approach than self-injurers use. This new discipline is known as energy psychology. My favorite method of energy psychology utilizes proven locations that connect directly to the fear center of the brain—the limbic system. In these methods, the proper stimulation of specific energy points delivers rapid and long-lasting relief from fear—and thus, from any negative emotion. A method designed specifically for those who self injure is explained fully in my recent e-book: A SILENT SCREAM: Removing the Need to Self Injure. Available at the website below.
In my experience, more than 90% of victims who have self-injured for extended periods have been able to stop the behavior within a few hours after learning the method. While this correction has only been available for the past few years, it appears that the relief obtained will be permanent.
Recommended methods for help up till now have included medications, traditional psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, coping mechanisms, hypnosis, activities to distract attention, and more. By comparison, these methods are painfully slow and ineffective for most victims. This revolutionary self-help method of energy psychology is not only faster but far more effective. Perhaps most important to the victims, it puts them in complete control of their own relief.
Charles Smithdeal, M.D. is a retired M.D. He works today as a renowned Anxiety Relief Specialist, teaching a revolutionary self-help method to remove fear and anxiety throughout the U.S. and abroad.