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Question
Posted by: tessa | 2010/10/22

involuntary self-harm?

I'm not sure involuntary is the best way to phrase it, but I can't really think of anything else to call it seeing as how it seems to be outside of my control.

I used to self-harm, this started around age 10 and continued onwards until around age 16. I stopped because I met a wonderful guy whom I''m now very happily engaged to, he was obviously concerned by it and I didn't want him to worry about it or have to talk about it everyday, I could not get him to understand that it wasn't triggered by anything specific but just part of my daily routine... I never viewed my self-harm as a problem, it was just my method of coping and I had it under control, but it was definitely not worth the worry/heartache it was causing the people I care about.

So for the past 5 years, whenever life gets stressful, when I have to write exams, or meet a deadline I start harming myself unintentionally. I pick at old wounds, or even healthy skin and only realize that I'm hurting myself when the damage has already been done. I have dug a hole in my leg with a pencil while studying, I rip my cuticles off and chew on lips, the list goes on. I mostly only do this when I''m actually busy concentrating on something and even when those things are relaxing such as playing games or reading a book.

Can you offer any advice on how to stop this behavior? It''s really unsightly and hard to explain when people ask about it.

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Many things which might seem beyond our voluntary control, are actually and potentially WITHIN our control.
Read over what you have said here. If you found that harming / mutilating yourself was just "part of your daily routine", like brushing your teeth - didn't that strike you as unfortunate ?
And of course, the fact that you were able to stop it when you wanted to, for the sake of that friendship, shows that you DID and do have voluntary control over it. Maybe sometimes you don't feel motivated to exercise and use the voluntary control you actually do have.
As you noticed, even if self-mutilation seems no big deal for you, it is indeed a Very big deal for other people, especially for those who care about you.
And there are much better ways of coping with ANYTHING, which a counsellor / psychotherapist could help you to learn and use instead.
So, one really effective thing to do would be to arange to see such a therapist. And especially CBT, Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, is excellent for helping one to unlearn such bad habits.
Then, if it tends to happen when you're distracted and concentrating on something else, maybe try wearing gloves ( I'm not kidding!) at those times, or in some similar way, to make it impossible to do such things absent-mindedly.
When it comes to cutting or picking at yourself when in a crisis or feeling very anxious, some of my patients have found it surprisingly helpful to adopt an alternative method.
For instance, they may "slash" at their wrist or arm using a red felt-tip pen or marker ( one of the washable rather than Permanant ones !) rather than a blade. They may wear a thick ruber band round their arm, and at such times, Snap the band sharply against the arm for a short sharp mild pain, rather than harming themselve in any other way.
Be creative !

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1
Our users say:
Posted by: cybershrink | 2010/10/22

Many things which might seem beyond our voluntary control, are actually and potentially WITHIN our control.
Read over what you have said here. If you found that harming / mutilating yourself was just "part of your daily routine", like brushing your teeth - didn't that strike you as unfortunate ?
And of course, the fact that you were able to stop it when you wanted to, for the sake of that friendship, shows that you DID and do have voluntary control over it. Maybe sometimes you don't feel motivated to exercise and use the voluntary control you actually do have.
As you noticed, even if self-mutilation seems no big deal for you, it is indeed a Very big deal for other people, especially for those who care about you.
And there are much better ways of coping with ANYTHING, which a counsellor / psychotherapist could help you to learn and use instead.
So, one really effective thing to do would be to arange to see such a therapist. And especially CBT, Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, is excellent for helping one to unlearn such bad habits.
Then, if it tends to happen when you're distracted and concentrating on something else, maybe try wearing gloves ( I'm not kidding!) at those times, or in some similar way, to make it impossible to do such things absent-mindedly.
When it comes to cutting or picking at yourself when in a crisis or feeling very anxious, some of my patients have found it surprisingly helpful to adopt an alternative method.
For instance, they may "slash" at their wrist or arm using a red felt-tip pen or marker ( one of the washable rather than Permanant ones !) rather than a blade. They may wear a thick ruber band round their arm, and at such times, Snap the band sharply against the arm for a short sharp mild pain, rather than harming themselve in any other way.
Be creative !

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