Some of us harm ourselves in the face of distress. The most obvious form of self-harm is physical. Someone may cut, burn, bite or overdose on medication as a way to relieve mental distress. Mental distress can also lead someone to take excessive alcohol or drugs because s/he does not know how to manage emotions. But self-harm need not only be physical.
Subtle Forms of Self-Harm
Most health websites define self-harm as being physical. Such as biting, burning oneself, or overdosing on medication or alcohol. The cause is due to mental distress and the inability to cope with emotions. Physical self-harm could be an indication that the mind has already dug deep into a negative self-belief and therefore requires professional help and even medications. But it is possible to manage our minds by recognizing what we are doing before we physically harm ourselves? Here are 3 reasons why we self-harm. Please note that this post is unsuitable for anyone suffering clinical mental distress.
1. Thinking it is self-improvement
We may face critical partners, bosses, or family members day in and out. Facing criticism may cause one to look inward to check if one indeed has the faults pointed out by another. In a healthy environment, the person who criticized us could be friendly and explains his or her point of view to help us improve. But usually, most people pass criticism and negative views about others without being aware.
Most of the time, people exhibit negative thoughts and project their judgments but neglect to see the harm they do to others. Many times, people with negativity thrive on overpowering others to make themselves feel good. Gossiping also includes being critical of others. Criticisms on social media can also lead one to depression and even suicide. For many, especially young people, take these criticisms seriously. They try to change themselves thinking it can improve their personality or looks to be accepted by others.
2. Not feeling enough
Marissa Peer, a well-known British hypnotist likes to point us to the origin of all our troubles – we do not feel we are enough. This simply means we always feel we lack something. We feel we may not be the good daughter, son, father, mother, or employee and that is why we never get the appreciation or promotion we seek. Or we may not feel we are not making an impact with our lives.
These feelings of inadequacy could come from people around us who are maybe stingy with praise. They could be too absorbed with being negative, or, like everyone else, most people are self-absorbed in their lives and thoughts. But our feeling of not being whole could also come from images of happiness projected on advertisements everywhere telling us we need to have this or that in order to live a perfect life. These subtle messages make us view our lives as being not enough. We go back and look at our homes, our wardrobe, and our activities and consume in order to add to our lives.
3. Not understanding emotions
Most of us do not understand that emotions are cultivated by thoughts. Like planting a seed in the soil, a plant grows. The type of plant depends on the type of seed one sows. Our propensity towards negativity is an evolution from our animal past. Psychologists have found negative thoughts to be the reason why we are able to survive the dangers of the jungle. But in today’s age, we have mostly rejected negativity by being positive. By not accepting negative thoughts exist, we promote toxic positivity. Perhaps the mascot for toxic positivity is Donald Trump. His inability to accept truth causes him to spin positive thoughts by denying what he hates.
Not understanding planted thoughts grow into emotions, which becomes our belief system, we are not careful with filtering thoughts. We accept untruths from others because we do not know their intentions. Even if people do not have bad intentions, most of the time, they brand their negativity as facts and aren’t aware of their hurtful words.
People do need to be told sometimes if they go overboard with their comments. We do not need to believe what everyone says. Let alone be threatened by them. In order not to be in a position where we can be blackmailed or threatened by others, we also need to be discerning with our behavior. If we never spoke ill of anyone and if we have not behaved badly, we can’t put ourselves in vulnerable positions. This requires us to discern the consequences of our actions.
Tools to recognise subtle self-harm
Learning to train our minds is the first step towards making wise discernment. What is considered wise? Wisdom comes from our awareness. Most of us experience life being unaware. What are we unaware of? When we listen to others’ thoughts we are unaware. We usually answer with the first thing we think about in response to another’s opinion. However, their opinion could be helpful or unhelpful. If we aren’t aware, we cannot discern their intentions. Awareness cultivates wisdom because we are present to what we and others do, think, or say. Wise discernment cannot grow when we are unaware.
Some people tend to talk about others’ being difficult, not seeing they could be the ones who are difficult. They could say they have attained something, such as eliminating negative thoughts or being able to love all. But one who truly is positive and happy, and loves others need not say it. They feel secure enough that they need not proclaim it.
Others enjoy putting another down just because they are more popular with people. And due to their popularity, we tend to listen to them. It is important to be able to discern others’ intentions by being mindful.
Learning mindfulness helps us sharpen our minds. It allows us to see truths and untruths because mindfulness includes self-reflection. When our own minds criticize ourselves, we are able to contemplate how it came about. When we understand a toxic seed cultivates a toxic plant, we drop initial thoughts of self-criticism like dropping a hot iron. Even if we were to feel sad when someone we love rejects us, we learn to accept it quickly. A well-trained mindful person would find s/he has no more propensity to sink too deep into negativity or go too high with excitement. After all, an emotional high is always followed by an emotional low before neutrality returns to the mind.
Find out more about our mindfulness training and get in touch with us. We run workshops and courses for individuals and groups.