- You may feel completely numb – like you have no feelings. As painful as it is, hurting yourself proves that you feel something, even if it’s only pain.
- You may feel overwhelmed by anger and hate and worry that if you express it you may hurt someone. The only place for this rage to go seems to be in on yourself.
If you do hurt yourself it’s important to remember that it’s something you’ve done to survive. It’s not just the same as wanting to kill yourself. (If you do want to kill yourself see, ‘Staying Alive.’) You had to live and handle intolerable levels of fear, rage and pain. Men are rarely encouraged to express feelings, let alone deep distress. You coped as best you could given a bad situation. Try to hold onto that thought if you feel the way you’ve coped is wrong.
What to do if you feel caught in a pattern of hurting yourself
- Tell someone you trust about it. Use your support system. Like abuse, self-harm occurs in secret and seems filled with shame. Sharing feelings with trustworthy people breaks into the cycle of shame.
- Do something about physical stress. (See ‘Reducing Physical Tension.) You may have got used to high levels of tension when you were abused as a boy. Hurting yourself, or putting yourself in situations where you might get hurt, is a way of handling this tension. It’s important to learn new ways that aren’t harmful to yourself.
- Control the pace at which you address abuse issues. This applies whether you’re in ‘therapy,’ talking with friends, or reading books. You have the right to control when you look at issues and how fast. Hurting yourself may have been a way of dealing with feelings inside. As you deal with the feelings that come up you may find that you are harming yourself more. If therapy is getting too ‘heavy’ you could tell your counsellor you need a break, or need to focus on other issues. Give some thought to when it feels safe for you to read books on recovery from abuse.
- Think up some safe ways to express anger and rage. This helps form the habit of getting feelings from inside to outside without hurting yourself or anyone else. Some ideas are:
- Hard exercise – running, swimming.
- Punching something that can’t hurt your hand such as a punch bag (with boxing gloves on), or some big thick pillows.
- Smashing glass bottles at a recycling plant.
If you’re not physically fit, don’t push yourself too hard.
- Your anger and rage may include fantasies of revenge against your abuser. This is understandable. It’s important to talk about this to those who are supporting you. You have every right to these feelings, but in order to keep safe don’t act on them. You might end up getting physically hurt or suffering even more than you already have. Although you have every right to your feelings you don’t have the right to hurt anyone physically. You may want to consider taking legal action against your abuser and you could contact your local support group for more advice and support on this.
- Avoid alcohol and non-prescription drugs. They impair thinking and make it more likely you’ll put yourself in a situation where there’s danger. If you feel addicted to these substances see ‘Finding a way through Addiction.’