Self-harm 2: It’s all in the chemistry


In part 1 we asked the question ‘what would you do to make it stop?’ For some people, when they feel so completely overwhelmed, self-harm, self-injury is the only thing they know that works. There’s a reason for that.

At my grandfather’s funeral I felt completely overwhelmed. I was 13 years old. It was my first experience of death and I was more distraught that I could ever have imagined. So how did I deal with that overwhelming grief? In between the sobs, I giggled. I laughed. It took me years to come to terms with that.

When we’re faced with overwhelming trauma a strange thing happens. Our brains produce endorphins, neurotransmitters like oxytocin which produce a mild euphoria. It’s a kind of emotional defence that lets us reset our emotional balance. It keeps us sane. And the same thing happens in response┬áto physical trauma too. That’s why some people harm themselves. The physical trauma they inflict allows them to experience the same endorphin high that I experienced all those years ago. It helps them to cope with the distress that threatens to overwhelm them.

That’s why it feels like a release or a relief. It’s because it is.

So you see, there really is a reason for self-harm. It may not be the best coping strategy but at least it’s something. It’s about relief. It’s not about manipulation or emotional blackmail.

It doesn’t matter how important we think we are, there’s nothing that you or I can offer that is worth repeated self-mutilation. It’s not about getting a response from us. It’s not about us at all.

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