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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Self-harm: 'escaping' emotions

TW This post talks about self-harm, but not in any detail.

"So you would rather feel physical pain than emotional pain?" My therapist questioned me.

I said that physical pain is far less painful than the emotional pain I sometimes feel. I said that I can bear to feel physical pain but as for emotional pain...it hurts so much I can't stand it, it feels like it's swallowing me up and will drown me.

"So physical pain can momentarily stop your emotional pain?" asked my therapist a little while later.

This stopped me in my tracks. I had never even considered that I might have been using self-harm as a way of pressing pause, even if only for a few seconds, on emotional pain.

I thought about...and it became clear to me that during those times when I am in emotional 'episode' I would do anything to stop the pain I feel.

I started with self-harm when I was as young as eight or nine. I started to do it when I was very angry and upset and feeling ashamed of myself. I've never done self-harm in a life-threatening way, in fact it has never caused me to seek any physical medical attention at all. But it became the only outlet for me to 'rid' myself of the guilt and other emotions I was storing up.



I have usually understood my history of self-harm as something to do with shame, guilt, self-punishment and releasing emotions. Or something to do with communicating how I feel about myself on the inside to my outside body.

Until this conversation with my therapist, I had never considered that I have been creating physical pain for myself as a means of giving myself 'relief' from emotional pain.

Self-harm has complex origins, is a complex behaviour and a personal narrative often going back a long way into childhood- that's true for me anyway.

It has been really important for me to recognise my history of self-harm in the context of distraction of 'relief'.  For the first time, I am able to see the lengths I have been willing to go to in order to 'escape' emotional pain.

'Escaping' emotions

TW This post talks about self-harm, but not in any detail.

"So you would rather feel physical pain than emotional pain?" My therapist questioned me.

I said that physical pain is far less painful than the emotional pain I sometimes feel. I said that I can bear to feel physical pain but as for emotional pain...it hurts so much I can't stand it, it feels like it's swallowing me up and will drown me.

"So physical pain can momentarily stop your emotional pain?" asked my therapist a little while later.

This stopped me in my tracks. I had never even considered that I might have been using self-harm as a way of pressing pause, even if only for a few seconds, on emotional pain.

I thought about...and it became clear to me that during those times when I am in emotional 'episode' I would do anything to stop the pain I feel.

I started with self-harm when I was as young as eight or nine. I started to do it when I was very angry and upset and feeling ashamed of myself. I've never done self-harm in a life-threatening way, in fact it has never caused me to seek any physical medical attention at all. But it became the only outlet for me to 'rid' myself of the guilt and other emotions I was storing up.

I have usually understood my history of self-harm as something to do with shame, guilt, self-punishment and releasing emotions. Or something to do with communicating how I feel about myself on the inside to my outside body.


Until this conversation with my therapist, I have never considered that I have been creating physical pain for myself as a means of giving myself 'relief' from the emotional pain.


Self-harm has complex origins, is a complex behaviour and a personal narrative often going back a long way into childhood- that's true for me anyway.

It has been really important for me to recognise my history of self-harm in the context of distraction of 'relief'.  For the first time, I am able to see the lengths I have been willing to go to in order to 'escape' emotional pain.