If you self harm or carry out behaviour that is harmful to self e.g. cutting, excessively drinking, taking drugs, risky behaviour, you may be interested in the ‘Self Harm Cycle’ as a way of breaking out of it. Feelings or emotions that are overwhelming and not able to be processed cause us to look for a solution. We try a behavioural response, in this case, the behaviour is harmful. Once we carry this behaviour it out it makes us feel better. The catch is that it only makes us feel better temporarily. Soon afterwards feelings of guilt and/or shame about the previous self harm behaviour add to the original feelings of overwhelm and the cycle goes around and around.
In the diagram you can see that although the behaviour carried out is causing harm to self, it is also a coping mechanism for feelings or emotions that are overwhelming and not able to be processed. Removing the self harm behaviour may seem an obvious solution to those observing a person self harming, but this can be more damaging. It would be similar to removing someones life raft when stranded in the middle of an ocean. The ‘ocean’ being ‘feelings of overwhelm’, and the ‘self harm behaviour’ the ‘raft’. It could be that the raft can be exchanged for another that is not damaging or less damaging for short term relief. As long as the behavioural response still enabled temporary relief from feelings of overwhelm, was not harmful (or at the very least less harmful) it wouldn’t add extra feelings of guilt and shame into the cycle.
The long-term work required would involve looking at ways to process the feelings and emotions of overwhelm. There are various self-care therapies, such as counselling, available to help support this process. Its about finding the best one to support you and your specific needs.
Can’t afford therapy?
A lot of therapies are not available on the NHS, and therefore it can feel like this is not an option. Journalling to express your feelings and emotions is a free and simple exercise. The challenge can be to spend 10 mins every day to allow yourself the time, to hold a space without interruption, to express how you feel from the here and now moment. It is not a dairy of what you did that day. It is not a journal for other people to read. It is private, and the emotions and feelings that are invited to be expressed are sometimes raw and always powerful – if they weren’t you would not have clicked on this page.
It also may be worth considering, if your best friend needed therapy but couldn’t afford it, and asked you for financial support – would you ‘find’ the money? If the answer is yes, then it tells you something more about what you feel about yourself. Finding the money for you is sometimes the first step in change – you are worth it.
You may find Transactional Analysis – Ego States useful to read next (there are several blogs available on this website, and many YouTube videos or other online articles to explore on other sites).