Putting a Stop to the Cycle of Self-Abuse

March 1, 2014 is Self-Injury Awareness Day

self-abuseSelf-abuse is extremely prevalent. One in five females and one in seven males engage in it.[1] Cutting and burning are the most common forms of self-abuse; however, hair pulling, food restricting, and binge eating also fall into this category.1 What they have in common is the need for emotional release—the internalization and directing of emotions on oneself rather than externalizing and directing them towards others.1

Macy began cutting herself in the 6th grade.1 She found that when she felt overwhelmed or angry, the cutting helped her feel better.1 It was something she could control.1

Macy continued to cut herself on and off throughout high school.1 When her parents divorced, her best friend shunned her, and when she broke up with her boyfriend, it made her feel better.1 However, one day she stopped—for years.1

Years later, Macy began again.1 A long-term relationship ended, and she feels distraught.1 She turns to her pen knife to ease her pain.1

The cycle of self-abuse is difficult to break because it helps the person feel better.1 When Macy found herself in an emotional moment, she was able to do something that she could control.1 To her, it was easier than talking about how she feels.1 Her feelings and self-doubt remained hidden, instead.1 Cutting creates endorphins that help a person feel better quickly—a little pain for immediate results.1

Quickly, self-abuse can become addictive in the same way that drug and alcohol use can.1 To break the cycle, one has to learn another way of coping and problem solving.1 The following is a three-step replacement:1

  1. Journal for 10 minutes. By journaling, you are getting your thoughts and feelings out on paper.1 The thoughts and feelings are leaving your mind, tucked away on a piece of paper, allowing you to feel some relief. However, 10 minutes is an important time frame, as going on too long will emotionally overwhelm you and possible make you feel worse.1
  2. Exercise for 10 minutes. Those endorphins that self-abuse creates through pain can instead be created through exercise.1 Jumping jacks, a brisk walk—anything that gets your heart rate up—kicks up those endorphins and makes you feel better.1
  3. Invest in self-care for 20 minutes. This step is very important, because you are important. Do something that helps you relax—especially your mind.1 A hot bath, a long shower, a good playlist, meditation—whatever it is, do it.1 You can continue to do something on your own that doesn’t require you to depend on others, as self-harm does, but it is instead a healthy activity.1

Keep these steps somewhere where they are easily accessible to you when you are feeling down.1 The goal is to replace the self-abuse with something else, keeping you from caving to the urge.1 Most physiological cravings last for 30 minutes, and with these steps lasting 40, you are sure to make it through.1 It may not feel as good as cutting, but it is a great substitute that helps rewire your brain and reduce the urge to self-harm.1

Problem solving is the second part.1 Being assertive is important here.1 You need to tell others how you feel if they have hurt you, let them know what you need from them, and counter the fear of their reactions.1 Counseling, medication, and support groups can help give you the skills to problem solve and more forward.1

You deserve better.

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