“I like to hurt myself. Is something wrong with me?”
Think of your mind like a professional race car.
It’s incredibly powerful, but that power can be very difficult to control.
Until you learn how to control and direct that power, you’re likely to swerve all over the road, spinning out, barely missing trees and pedestrians...
It’s a wild ride.
And all you wanted was to pick up some milk at the grocery store.
Though your teenage and early adulthood years, this problem multiplies by 10 because suddenly you are flooded with new hormones, emotions, and motivations that push & pull you in new directions.
All emotions are motivation- do this, don’t do that. But now they’re all happening at once, and you’re not even sure how to respond.
It was already difficult to drive your Maserati in a straight line… but now you’re in a hurricane.
Learning to drive our own minds well is perhaps the greatest thing any of us will ever accomplish.
It’s the reason people learn meditation, study disciplines like Buddhism, Stoicism, philosophy, and psychology…
We’re all just trying to get home safely with some milk.
Why driving, untrained, is a problem
Have you ever looked at the car of someone who really doesn’t know how to drive?
Usually the bumper is dented, and the tail lights are smashed. The windshield is cracked and the side mirrors are dangling by a thread.
Humans are no different.
When you see someone who has not learned to drive their mind, they will accumulate similar cracks and dents. Premature aging from unmanaged stress. Health issues. Anxiety problems. Sleep and eating disorders.
You deserve better than that.
The many forms of self-harm
Your mind is a beautiful, and wonderfully complex thing.
In fact it is so complex, and we are so untrained, that sometimes things get out of whack.. and we can pick up behaviors that are quite unhealthy.
I’ve seen people engage in self-harm in many ways;
- Punching themselves
- Heavy drug use ( recreational, or prescription )
- Heavy alcohol use
- Food starvation
- Food over-eating until-it-hurts
- Socially isolating themselves
- Socially embarrassing themselves
- Extreme sexual promiscuity
- Self-sabotage in relationships, career, social life
If you find yourself doing these things, and you are struggling to control these impulses, please seek help immediately.
You might think you have your race car under control right now, but one bad swerve, and you’ll find yourself flying through a field of cows, or headed over a cliff.
It’s just not worth the risk.
By its very definition, self-harm is not healthy- and in bad times, it can translate into something far darker and more threatening.
Find someone to help- a good counselor can teach you how to drive your brain like Mario Andretti.
If this describes where you are at, don’t even read any further. You owe it to yourself, your health and happiness, and maybe to future generations of you, to solve this problem as quickly as possible.
Don't muck around. Some accidents are impossible to come back from.
Exploring the motivations behind self-harm
This section is only for people who have good control of their mental "race car," but notice that the car is acting a bit funny.
Perhaps it’s wobbly, or the steering is wonky. Perhaps it is all-go, and then all-stop suddenly and randomly. Or maybe you just don’t know how to work the controls, and read all the indicator lights.
But you’ve noticed that sometimes things go in a weird direction that feels dangerous.
It’s important to know what’s happening in your mind, because wanting to hurt yourself is a clear indication that something is out-of-whack.
Why people self-harm
I generally see a fairly narrow range of “reasons” that people engage in self-harm.
Here are 5 different areas for you to explore that may help you determine where you need to invest your attention.
The process is important.
To get perspective on what’s happening, I encourage you to step “outside of yourself” mentally, and have an objective look at your frame of mind. Imagine you’re talking to a friend who is having these problems. You’re listening to them, and giving them advice. You love them, and you want the very best for them.
Grab a journal, and write your thoughts down, it will help you get outside perspective on them much more clearly than if those thoughts just bounce around in your head.
Here are some questions to guide your self-reflection.
Do you like yourself?
Be honest with yourself, and specific about anything you’re unhappy with.
This is a complex and ever-changing question for all of us, and it’s very difficult to be objective about ourselves. However self-esteem, self-appreciation, self-love, these are all things that we must develop, and we’re not taught how to develop in school.
In your mind you’re effectively 2 people- you, and yourself. These two may not be best friends- but they should be, and life is far better when they are.
Build that relationship with yourself.
Are you punishing yourself for something?
This can connect to #1, as in “I don’t really like me, I feel low self-respect, and low self-esteem, and I strangely feel better when I bully myself.”
But self-punishment can also be related to a traumatic event.
Breakups, family dissolutions, rejection, loneliness, getting fired… if you feel like you’ve done something wrong, or failed somehow, you may feel anger and a desire to punish yourself.
Do you have good friends who love & accept you for who you are?
We are strongly affected by the people around us.
Sometimes, if we feel un-accepted, or rejected by others, we feel we must reject ourselves too.
If you find yourself here, don’t worry- there’s nothing wrong with you. But you do need to learn how to appreciate yourself, and how to build deep and meaningful friendships.
Do you feel overly stressed, or emotionally-pressurized?
Some people describe cutting as a way to escape from the emotional pressure-cooker, into a different part of their mind where things seem clear and real.
If you’re here, find a counselor. You should not feel consistent, overwhelming stress at that level. Emotions are an incredibly helpful and healthy part of life. They are meant to come, and to go, in minutes.
“Trapping” emotions is a result of us reacting to them by suppressing or amplifying our emotions, and they can become warped into something entirely different that is much more difficult to release.
Do you feel numb, no emotions at all?
Some people report that physical pain is one of the few things that make them feel alive. For some this is tied to drug use, or other chemical imbalances.
Personally I’d seek a therapist here as well, to dig in and see why your world feels emotionally muted - when it should be the best music you’ve ever heard.
I hope this has helped.
No matter what, never be ashamed to seek help.
The most successful people I know seek the help of others constantly. Life is too short to muddle your way through alone, and perspective of others can cut through the fog immeasurably.
Make sure to find yourself a good guide, and great friends, especially if you’re feeling lost- they will help you like nothing else can.
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