Self-Medicating Through Self-Harming

April 10, 2015   •  Posted in: 

Terry sat in the train station worrying. She worried she was at the wrong track. She worried the train would be late. She worried her daughter wouldn’t be able to pick her up at the other end. Terry worried this entire trip was really a bother to her daughter, especially with her new baby and all. As she worried, she mindlessly scratched at the scabs on her arm.

They were small wounds, kept constantly open by her incessant picking. Some of them were still fresh, fresh from her last round of worrying while packing to leave. Those she left alone. Instead, she looked for those that had formed a scab. The almost-healed sores were the best. There was something satisfying about working the scab off, feeling the twinge of pain and watching is bleed afresh. She always kept Kleenex handy to dab away the blood. It was why she wore long sleeves, to cover all the scabs and marks. 

Self-medicating through self-harming is a way to use physical pain to cover over psychological pain. It’s a way to feel cleansed of internal distress through the physical release of wounding. Self-harming behaviors include making small, superficial cuts, burning, scratching, picking at scabs, hair pulling, and banging or hitting body parts. The physical pain is used as a relief and release from anxiety. It is using a lesser, more easily understandable physical pain to soothe a greater, more complex, indiscernible psychological pain.

Self-harm puts yourself on an altar of sacrifice in an attempt to appease intense feelings of stress and worry. It is your way of taking control of your own punishment by exchanging one pain for another.

Maybe you read about this particular behavior and shake your head in disbelief. Maybe you say to yourself you’d never do anything like that! But before you dismiss this behavior altogether, consider the ways in which you might engage in self-harming behavior. Maybe the scab you keep picking at isn’t physical; maybe it’s emotional or relational. Maybe you don’t cut yourself physically, but you do cut yourself verbally or mentally. Those who engage in self-harming physical behavior leave physical scars. If your self-harm is emotional or relational, if it’s mental or verbal, you’re still leaving scars.

At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we can help you heal these scars, and address the underlying reason they were created in the first place. If you believe you or someone you love is in need of recovery support, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a recovery specialist today.







Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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