For years, I always thought self-harm was physically harming yourself when you’re dealing with depression. I was always grateful I never cut myself and thought I’d been evading self-harm, even when my depression spiraled out of control again and again.
Except, I was engaging in a type of self-harm that hurt me at my deepest level. Whenever the guilt became too much (I believed I was a bad person that constantly hurt others), I would go into my room, cry, and call myself the most horrible names I could think of. I would use all the curse words, I would tell myself how awful I was, and I repeated this process either verbally or mentally A LOT. The wounds ran deep, and even though blood didn’t coat my arms, my heart was constantly bleeding.
And yet, we often think verbally self-harming is at least better than physically self-harming. Part of me understands that, because physically self-harming combines emotional pain with physical, and yet another part of me believes both are equally awful and very painful. Just as physical scars take time to heal, so do emotional scars, and just as it can be hard to stop cutting, it can be hard to stop verbally abusing yourself.
If you’re verbally or emotionally abusing yourself, recognize this as a type of self-harm. You’re not crazy. I abused myself because I loved others so much, and it broke my heart to think I was hurting them. I reasoned if I abused myself as punishment, maybe I would stop causing other so much pain. My self-harm was my way of loving others . . . and also my way of trying to become the person I wanted to be.
The intention was good, but the thoughts and techniques only led me to hurt myself and others more, and the wounds I inflicted on myself took years to repair. If you’re at the point of abusing yourself in any way, recognize it for what it is, and see if you can accept that this is where you are at. Sit with it. Don’t attach to any emotion, such as shame or anguish or guilt, but try to accept where you are and understand the techniques you have been using. Though cutting or verbally abusing yourself sounds horrendous, look underneath. What was your intention? To provide yourself love? To help you become who you want to be? To show more love for others? I’ve learned we rarely do things from bad intentions. Recognize this, and see if you can find a flicker of gratitude for yourself for trying, however imperfectly, to fill your needs.
Obviously, getting some help can go a long way. I went to therapy and was on medication as I learned new techniques to implement in my life—techniques that actually got me the results I’d wanted all along. Now I use neither therapy or medication, since I’ve incorporated new beliefs and actions into my life. Getting out of the habit of self-harming is difficult when you’re doing it alone, because the urge to respond in a harmful way is so strong. After all, you’ve likely been doing it for a long time, and your brain has become programed to seek that response. It doesn’t yet know another way. Trying therapy or medication isn’t shameful at all. If you struggle to paint a picture and all you want to do is become a painter, you go to painting class rather than struggle on your own. Some people are indeed self-taught, but many benefit from classes when their own efforts aren’t getting them where they want to be. You can definitely do the same when trying to gain emotional results in your life or acquire new thoughts and techniques.
Whatever you do, know you are loved and valued and that you are trying to provide for yourself, albeit in an ineffective way. You aren’t crazy. Far from it. You’re just trying to get what you need and are unsure how to do so in a way that works for you.
I’m sending you much love as you navigate this. Know you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and you’re not selfish. Feel free to comment below with other insights or tips, or if you need a virtual hug!
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