The Primary goal is to end the compulsion to self-harm…Quickly and Easily.
Self-Harm also known as self-injury, is a form of compulsive behaviour. It is totally baffling to the parent who learns their child is self-harming. There seems to be no logical reason why on earth someone would choose to hurt themselves.
The parents often feel a wide range of emotions including guilt, anger, sadness and frustration. Predominately the over-riding emotion is “powerless” They feel at a total loss to explain the behaviour, and unable to help their child. They feel totally out of their depth, and the options available for help seem almost as “unhelpful” as the condition itself.
Medication doesn’t seem to help in any useful way. The concept of spending many months in traditional therapy is daunting, not to mention expensive, and no-one seems to be able to offer any genuine, understanding of the problem let alone a definitive solution.
When it comes to self-harming behaviour, it really seems like you are trying to resolve an unresolvable and unexplainable problem.
There is a reason for that. It’s because almost all the available solutions attempt to deal with the “apparent problem” rather than the “actual problem” The “apparent problem” is the behaviour itself, often cutting, but there are many other forms of self-harm. The “actual problem” is a completely different story altogether and has absolutely nothing to do with a “strange” desire to hurt oneself.
Self-Harming is not the real problem:
Of all the many wondrous things I have learned over the years as a clinical & research hypnotherapist, possibly the most important of all is the very clear understanding that the problem is never the problem. It just looks like it’s the problem. What’s more, if all your efforts are directed to resolving a problem that isn’t really the problem at all, you will simply waste monumental amounts of time and money and end up feeling helpless and frustrated.
As strange as this may sound, self-harming is not the problem. It just seems to be the problem. This form of compulsive behaviour is an effect. It is not a cause. This is an extremely important point to keep in mind.
So, what do I suspect these real problems might be? And what evidence can I provide to support my claims? I will share a story about a client who was self-harming, and who was also anorexic, but achieved complete freedom from those behaviours in only two sessions. It is helpful to remember though that every client is different, and the real causes of self-harming are the emotional reaction experienced, and not the events themselves.
Firstly, some information on the real underlying problems. Self-harm behaviour is a “compulsive disorder” that requires at least two different types of “conflicts” to have occurred before the behaviour manifests. The natures of those conflicts are:
• Bullying/Physical assault.
• An intimate loss/Rejection.
• A fright/shock/loss of a sexual nature.
A closer look at bullying:
Let’s consider bullying first. It’s obvious that bullying can take place in the school yard. It can also happen in the work place; self-harm behaviour is clearly not limited to school age students. There is also the reported increase of bullying via social media. Noteworthy is the observable fact that the reported incidence of self-harm behaviour has dramatically increased as more young people carry mobile phones with internet access to those social media websites, predominately Facebook.
( A footnote to parents: I do not believe taking away your child’s mobile phone is the solution. In all probability, that will just create increased feelings of isolation and potentially make the problem worse.)
Bullying can take many forms and occur in many environments or situations. We are all aware of the possibility for bullying to take place at school; however a child living in a blended family with step-siblings can be subject to immense bullying without the parent even being aware. They are often afraid to speak up against the attackers. A child may feel bullied in their own home by a overly dominant parent or sibling. Opportunities to be bullied abound.
We traditionally think of bullying as a relatively low grade physical assault, lots of pushing and shoving, along with verbal abuse, often in the form of “mocking”. The physical effects of bullying are not the big problem however. The real issue is the emotional component; the feelings of fright, of not being safe, of feeling threatened and vulnerable.
Scrapped knees and bloodied noses heal, but the emotional wounds can cut very deeply indeed and the scars can last a lifetime. Those emotional wounds can also be experienced through either subtle or overt emotional abuse or various forms of intimidation.
Loss and Fear:
Next we have conflicts relating to an “intimate” loss and/or rejection. These conflicts seem to involve the “special relationships” that are so very important. They can certainly be related to romantic relationships, not necessarily sexual, but any intimate relationship. A “falling-out” amongst best friends, being unexpectedly excluded from a group they once felt an important part of, the boy or girl they had a “crush” on who is more interested in their best friend. It really is to do with a shattered sense of belonging or rejection, and it always relates to very significant heartfelt relationships with others.
Finally, let’s look at conflicts involving frights, shocks, or loss of a sexual nature. Certainly this can be as severe as a sexual assault, but it can also be what may appear as a relatively mild experience from someone else’s point of view. Remembering of course, that how any event is perceived is a very subjective thing. What is a stressful, challenging or even traumatic situation for one person may be “no big deal” for another.
It’s the combination of events that is the problem:
To emphasise a point that I skimmed over earlier, it seems to be the combination of least two different “types” of experiences that create the self-harm compulsion. The really encouraging news here is that is appears you only need to effectively resolve one “type” of the conflict combination to end the self-harm behaviour.
To clarify this point a little further, if as an example, a child was repeatedly bullied in primary school, then bullied again in high school, this does not mean they will self-harm. However, if that child was then to experience additional conflicts of either an “intimate loss/rejection” OR a “fright/shock/loss of a sexual nature”, then I would expect self-harming to become evident.
The key to ending the self-harm behaviour is to ideally help them resolve their emotions and perceptions of all of these types of events they have experienced. However, because it seems to be the combination of these types of experiences that cause self-harming, by effectively resolving just one “type” of conflict, you no longer have the combination, and therefore the behaviour simply stops.
Some Helpful Advice:
Your child is probably not going to want to talk to you about the “real problems” It’s extremely unlikely the one who is self-harming has even made the association between the problems and the behaviour. So asking them why they are self-harming is completely futile. The bottom line is they quite simply do not know. In fact any questions relating to the behaviour itself are pretty much a total waste of time; unless you use the information to help give you clues about the “real problems”, or the causes.
As therapists dealing with compulsive behaviour disorders, the task is to firstly identify the various conflicts responsible, and then resolve those conflicts to the satisfaction of the clients “unconscious mind” This is our job, and we are pretty good at it.
As a parent or friend of someone who is self-harming, you have your work cut out for you! Here is some advice you may find helpful. Firstly, the only questions relating to the behaviour itself that are useful to ask are those that help clearly define the “apparent” problem. Things like…
• When did this behaviour first begin?
• What form does it take? E.g. cutting, burning, overdosing on medication, or any number of other ways to hurt themselves.
• Has it changed from one form to another? If so, When?
• Has the behaviour stopped temporarily only to start again?
What is the best thing you can do?
Something for you to consider; the more extreme the self-harming appears to be, the more intense/traumatic their experience of the events. Further to that, the nature of the self-harming behaviour can offer clues as to the relevant events themselves.
The best thing you as a parent or friend can do is to get the help of a suitably qualified professional. If the behaviour persists, the conflicts have both not been identified and resolved, or have been identified but not effectively resolved to the satisfaction of the “unconscious mind”.
Let me share a story with you about a lovely young woman whose mother came to me for assistance. The young woman who we will call Jane (not her real name) had been under the treatment of a psychiatrist for some time and was taking heavy doses of anti-depressants. Her main issue was anorexia, but she was also “cutting” herself and was depressed.Jane’s mother was beside herself with worry. Although there had been some improvement in Jane’s depression, she was still anorexic and was continuing to self-harm. The sheer cost of the treatment for Jane was a real challenge for her parents, exceeding their monthly mortgage payment. Jane’s mother would have paid any amount to get her daughter well, but after many months and a small fortune spent, there had been no significant improvement in Jane’s condition.I had two sessions with Jane, each lasting around three to four hours. The relevant conflicts that we dealt with together involved massive amounts of bullying whilst in primary school. Jane had also been moved from one school to the next in her early high school years because she didn’t seem to be able to settle in or make friends. In short, she didn’t feel she belonged. She was also living in a “blended family” scenario that although was a loving arrangement, she never really felt like she belonged at home either.
There were issues relating to the divorce of her parents. There were also some serious anger issues with certain members of her family. But the lynch pin to the self-harming turned out to be an event where someone she knew and loved had “overtly” suggested they have sex, and made what she felt as totally inappropriate sexual advances. I should point out the sex never happened. She did however experience a huge fright involving sex. Jane was totally horrified at the proposition.
From her point of view, she felt as though she had been violated. That was enough. Combine that event with the bullying from her earlier school days and a compulsion to self-harm was the result. It took two sessions to effectively deal with her perceptions and emotions towards the bullying, the anger issues, the fright involving sex and some of her earlier memories of her parents’ divorce.
The outcome was obvious. Her mother reported to me the self-harm behaviour had stopped. Eating was no longer a problem and Jane was beginning to gain some sorely needed weight. Additionally her depression had lifted further. I was also told that Jane’s preference for dark and inappropriate (from her mother’s point of view) clothing had also changed. It seemed she now preferred more feminine and colourful clothing as well. All in all a very positive outcome, and one that only took a short amount of time to see the results.
A permanent and effective solution is available:
Self-Harming can be devastating. Not just because of the way the behaviour manifests, but also due to the helpless position those who offer support can find themselves in. Bewilderment, anger, frustration, sadness, shame and guilt are common reactions to this disturbing compulsion. This doesn’t need to be the case.
A real and effective solution begins by recognising the difference between a cause and an effect, then dealing exclusively with the cause. This requires the ability to think “out-side the square” and not accept this form of compulsive behaviour as something one needs to learn to live with.
If you or a loved one is self-harming, please know that effective help really is only a phone call or email away. If you would like more information, or the opportunity to discuss your situation, please make contact sooner rather than later. Under certain circumstances the results may be guaranteed.