A common and distressing symptom of BPD is self-harm. People with BPD often act very impulsively – be it through alcohol or drug abuse, gambling and over-spending, or promiscuous behaviour and self-harm is one of the most excruciating expressions of this need for instant gratification. To those untroubled by mental complexities such as BPD, the idea of self-harm might seem excruciating, bizarre or even pointless; However, to many who feel overwhelmed it can seem like a logical and effective way to momentarily relieve the pain that they feel inside. In reality, however, self-harm only adds to and deepens existing problems; Unfortunately, the need to deal with the immediate physical threat posed by self-harming behaviour can distract from the complex problems behind it.
Many may simply think of cutting when they think of self-harm; However, sufferers look to achieve a similar effect in a number of different ways, including self-inflicted burns, hair-pulling, or simply not taking care to avoid accidents. Whatever method a BPD-sufferer chooses to use, a number of common causes are identifiable:
- For someone who feels unloved and ignored, self-harm can be a symbolic way of communicating the pain they feel inside. This method of gaining people’s attention may seem simpler and more direct than trying to talk to someone to make them understand. Unfortunately, many potentially helpful people may, understandably, be scared off by this sort of behaviour. For so many disorders, unless people are informed and aware of the symptoms, causes and results it may lead to misunderstanding and confusion. Whether dealing with BPD-sufferers, people with ADHD or anyone who self harms, it is vital that others surrounding the sufferer understand what the sufferer is going through and how the disorder might manifest itself, to promote the acceptance and compassion that is necessary to help deal with it.
- When constantly overwhelmed by emotional pain or anxiety, the act of cutting oneself or pulling one’s hair may seem like a welcome distraction. Additionally, self-harm can result in the release of endorphins into the body, which act as natural pain killers. Oddly, then, causing oneself pain can be seen to help relieve it; In reality, of course, much more harm is done than good.
- A BPD sufferer whose life is blighted by the symptoms of their illness, and who finds relationships difficult, will often be wracked by feelings of inadequacy and guilt. As well as beating themselves up mentally for their apparent shortcomings, many sufferers choose to punish themselves by hurting their own bodies. Sometimes however, self-harm can also be inflicted in order to punish someone else; For example, a self-harmer may hurt themselves in order to demonstrate the effect that a friend’s inattentiveness is having on them.
- As many BPD sufferers’ problems are rooted in abuse suffered at an earlier age, self-harm can sometimes be seen as a way to continue this pattern. Someone with BPD may feel that they deserve abuse – Even when free from harm, they decide to carry it on.
Clearly, self-harm is a complex problem; There is no simple explanation for the motives behind it. Any one case of self-harming will have a unique group of motivations underlying it. For this reason, it is important not to make assumptions about why any individual chooses to self-harm, or to over-simplify the problem. Fortunately, there are a variety of different ways in which you can help stop yourself from continuing such behaviour:
- Thinking things through – When you are aware that you are feeling the impulse to hurt yourself, take time to reflect on the reasons why, and to think about what will actually come about as a result.
- Putting self-harm off – Instead of diving straight into an act that will cause you harm, make a concerted effort to spend five minutes debating the idea first. The next time you find yourself in the same situation, you could try to wait ten minutes, and so on. Over time, you might find that this period of self-reflection helps distract you from what would usually be an impulsive and immediate decision.
- Doing something else instead – Everyone has perfectly harmless activities that they enjoy doing, and so instead of harming yourself, perhaps try going for a walk or watching a film instead. You may find that this "much safer" activity gives you positive feelings that self-harm wouldn’t have provided.
These are just some of the techniques that might help you to overcome, or at least reduce your self-harming. Just as different people provide different accounts of why they self-harm, different people respond to different techniques for stopping self-harming. It is also important to remember that help is available. As well as providing support through the ‘Resources’ section of this website, BPDWORLD can provide help by responding to your messages through the ‘General Enquiries’ section.