Self-harming is a coping strategy which can affect any age. When we injure ourselves, we produce endorphins and dopamine to override the pain.
When we feel emotionally in pain, the physical pain acts both as a distraction, but also a way of increasing the feel-good chemicals in our brains. It may also to some appear to be addictive. Dopamine is part of the addiction process. When we reinforce that behaviour, our Hippocampus reminds us how easy it is to feel better by suggesting going through the process again, reinforcing it every time.
Self-harming isn’t always cutting.
But self-harming doesn’t have to be about cutting ourselves. Younger children may bang their heads against walls to create the endorphin rush. When I was working in the IT industry, my MD was a psychological bully. I was quite literally banging my head against a brick wall to cope under stress. Until the day I discovered hypnotherapy and exercise helped me get the same relief. Some may burn themselves with cigarette butts to achieve the pain response.
Research into self-harming also shows relationships to genes, diet, borderline personality disorder, and it’s not just a human problem. Animals in mental distress engage in self-biting. Experiencing stress is associated with high levels of cortisol, but in self-harming those levels are lower for some reason. Researchers Sher and Stanley in 2009 also discovered more moderate levels of opioids in repeat self-harmers, which encourages more behaviour to bring up the levels to “normal”.
(Sher, L., & Stanley, B. H. (2009). Biological models of nonsuicidal self-injury. In: M.K. Nock (Eds.), Understanding nonsuicidal self-injury (99-117). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. )
The standard treatment for self-harming is CBT. Evidence for taking anti-depressants shows they could make it worse as it’s not lack of serotonin, which causes it.
(Roberts, N. (2003). Adolescent self-mutilation behaviour: Psychopharmacological treatment. Child & Adolescent psychopharmacology news, 8, 10-12. )
If you or a family member are self-harming the first step is a diagnosis from your GP. They will decide the cause and refer you on to an appropriate mental health team – especially if Borderline Personality is the issue.
When hypnotherapy can help
If CBT hasn’t been very successful for you, then hypnotherapy can help. It reduces the feelings of tension, which can drive the action. Once allowing the raw emotional state to modify, you can then find ways of developing other tactics to the stress. The practice of mindfulness, meditation, and acceptance of certain situations and finding solutions can certainly help lower the discomfort.
Removing yourself from the stressor can undoubtedly help. But the real difference can come in changing the way you think about a situation or a person. Learn to work through the thought processes differently. Hypnotherapy is very relaxing, and it gives you a chance to take a step back and view what’s happening from a different viewpoint. Once you feel more in control, you won’t feel the need to control your environment and learn to channel those painful feelings into something more productive.
Also see: Anxiety