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Posts Tagged ‘Self-injury’

Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader asked the following question:

Faith, thank you so much for this blog. It is so nice to hear that I am not the only one who does this. That in itself brings a huge weight off my shoulders. My biggest question is though, how do I go about stopping an…for lack of a better word…addiction that has been going on for years? ~ Gia

Although some people might fear that self-injury through masturbation is a more extreme form of an addiction/compulsion, it really is just an addiction or compulsion just like any other. Whether you struggle with an eating disorder, self-injury, or an addiction to porn, drugs, or alcohol, your addiction or compulsion is being fueled by your avoidance of facing your painful emotions.

The first step in stopping an addiction or compulsion is understanding what emotional need it is meeting. The bottom line is that all addictions and compulsions work for you on some level. My most troublesome addiction/compulsion is my battle with binge eating. As much as I complain about battling my weight and my lack of control at times with food, binge eating has always worked for me. When I was in a lot of pain as an abused child, food offered me comfort. As I “stuffed down” food, I was really “stuffing down” all of the emotions that I was not yet ready to face.

Once you understand why you are drawn to this particular addiction or compulsion, the second step is to find other ways to meet the same need. For me, learning that it is okay to feel the emotions has been instrumental in weaning off the binge eating. Now, when I get angry, I yell or punch pillows instead of eat. If I feel sad, I cry instead of eat. Since I am no longer trying to “stuff down” my emotions, the pull to binge eat is much less strong.

Third, you need to develop alternative coping strategies. For example, if I drink a glass of wine (I have no alcoholic tendencies) or take a Xanax, I am much less likely to binge eat. Both substances give me the same relief without the calories. Other more positive strategies for me include doing a Sudoku puzzle, talking with a friend, or exercising.

Fourth, build up your confidence in the alternative strategies. I give myself a 15-minute “cooling off” period. I tell myself to try other options for 15 minutes. If, after 15 minutes, I still feel the need to binge eat, I give myself permission to binge with no guilt. Then, I start fresh the next day. I have found that, most of the time, my other strategies will meet my emotional needs, and I don’t need to binge eat after all.

Finally, if you do succumb to the addiction/compulsion, let go of the guilt. You are not going to be free of a lifelong addiction or compulsion overnight, and you will always be vulnerable to it. Recognize that it is okay to lean on your addiction or compulsion from time to time, but keep trying to find other ways to meet your needs.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When people hear the phrase “self-injury,” they generally think about people who cut themselves (cutting). However, cutting is only one type of self-injury.

People use numerous other types of self-injury, including…

  • Banging head
  • Breaking bones
  • Burning themselves
  • Picking at skin and/or scabs
  • Pulling out hair and/or eyebrows

Pulling out your hair, including your eyebrows, is not a form of self-injury that I see a lot of discussion about, but this form of self-injury happens much more frequently than you might realize.

People who pull out their hair are self-injuring for the same reasons as others who engage in self-injury: They are managing their emotions. The person feels anxiety or other strong negative emotion. When he or she pulls out hair, the anxiety eases. The person continues to pull out his hair because doing so is an effective way to manage the stress.

Of course, pulling out your hair comes with physical consequences, just like any other form of self-injury does. People who pull out their hair can wind up with bald patches on their head. They might have to pencil in their eyebrows with makeup because they have plucked out all of their eyebrow hairs. Also, once all of the hair has been removed, there is nothing left to manage the repressed emotions.

If you self-injure by pulling out your hair, you are not alone. Many people do this but are afraid or ashamed to talk about it. It really does make logical sense why you do this. Whenever you pull out your hair, you feel a reduction in your overwhelming level of anxiety or other strong emotions.

There are other, more positive, ways to cope with your emotions. The best way is to talk about them. Rather than express yourself physically, try talking about what you are feeling. Write down your feelings in a journal. Allow yourself to cry. As you learn to manage your emotions in other, more positive ways, you will feel less of a compulsive to pull out your hair.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Ritual abusers are masters at “programming” a child’s mind. By “programming,” I mean that they “implant” self-serving behaviors to control the child. While this might sound like a science-fiction movie, I assure you that it is very real. I know because I experienced it.

I was suicidal as a teenager. It started soon after I went through puberty. This is common among sexual abuse survivors. After reaching puberty, the child appreciates the gravity of what was taken through rape at a much deeper level. I battled suicidal urges on and off throughout my teen years.

When I would fantasize about how to kill myself, it was always by swallowing a jar of pills. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. I never considered another form of suicide.

This changed during my senior year of high school. My father (the “good” parent) died suddenly, and my mother/abuser started sexually abusing me again. I felt an overwhelming desire to die with a razor. The thoughts kept swirling around my head that I wanted to “watch the lifeblood flow out of me.”

I even came close to doing it. I locked myself in my mother’s bathroom with a razor and prayed for God to give me one reason not to do it. Fortunately, I fought my way out of those feelings and put my suicidal desires behind me.

I did not deal with suicidal urges again until I started recovering memories of the ritual abuse. I also did not ever deal with self-injury before I started to recover ritual abuse memories. I dealt with the pain of infertility, the frustration of the adoption process, and other very difficult life circumstances without self-injuring or considering suicide. I even made it through a year of the healing process without either, including recovering memories of my mother sexually abusing me.

As soon as I started recovering ritual abuse memories, I started banging my head as a form of self-injury. I wanted to bang my head repeatedly into a brick wall – not just any brick wall but a particular one with messy mortar that was never smoothed down. I also felt very strong urges to “watch the lifeblood flow out of me.”

Neither of these urges seemed to originate from myself. If I were to choose to self-injure, I think would probably choose cutting. I would definitely choose a less messy way to go through with a suicide. And yet, I was plagued with both of these very strong urges once I started recovering memories of the ritual abuse.

I came to recognize that these urges were programmed into me. The cult “programmed” me to self-destruct rather than tell. The brick wall I “saw” with the self-injury urges was a particular one that the cult used as part of the programming. The cult taught me the phrase “watch the lifeblood flow out.” This is not something I would have come up with on my own – certainly not at age 16.

The good news is that programming is much easier to remove than your own deep-seated feelings about yourself. As Chrystine Oksana says in Safe Passage to Healing, programming is like a foreign object, and the mind is eager to remove objects that do not belong.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Today I am going to talk about a very difficult topic that affects many survivors of severe child abuse, particularly those who experienced severe sexual abuse and/or ritual abuse. The topic is using masturbation as a form of self-injury.

People who self-injure with masturbation tend to be women who use objects that cut, burn, or otherwise harm their genitals while they masturbate. I know women who have used anything from knives to hot curling irons to self-injure through masturbation. The only way these women seem to be able to climax is by experiencing pain, and the self-inflicted pain can be severe.

Why would a woman choose to masturbate with a knife, curling iron, or other dangerous object? The reason is that the child abuse survivor’s first sexual experiences intermixed orgasms with pain. Many child abuse survivors experienced orgasms during sexual abuse, which caused the child’s body to feel both “pleasure” and pain at the same time. Even though the child’s body reacted by having an orgasm, the child did not want the rape or sexual abuse, and the experiences of terror, pain, and orgasm got all jumbled up in the child’s head.

Now, as an adult, the child abuse survivor has a desire for sexual pleasure (just like any other adult human being), but the only way to achieve an orgasm is to combine it with pain and, in some cases, even bloodshed. Numerous child abuse survivors also need to fantasize about reliving the abuse in order to have an orgasm, whether through masturbation or consensual sex. In some cases, masturbating with dangerous objects is a reenactment of sexual abuse that the person suffered as a child.

The women I have spoken with who struggle with using masturbation as a form of self-injury feel deep shame about what they are doing, and each one fears that she is the only person on the planet who does such a thing. They also tell me that masturbating as self-injury is a compulsion: They want to stop, but they feel powerless to do so. This is true of all forms of self-injury, which is why self-injury is a compulsion, not a recreational hobby.

If you struggle with masturbating as a form of self-injury, you are not alone. You are also not “crazy.” Just like anyone else who struggles with other forms of self-injury, you can learn how to stop self-injuring through masturbation. It won’t happen overnight, but you can move toward weaning yourself off your compulsion.

The key to healing from any form of self-injury is learning how to talk about your feelings and express your emotions instead of shoving them back down inside. A good start is finding a qualified therapist with experience in counseling child abuse survivors. The self-injury is a symptom, not the cause. If you had never been sexually abused, then you would not feel a compulsion to self-injure through masturbating. Healing your emotional wounds from the underlying pain will help you stop feeling the need to self-injure through masturbation.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fire (c) Rosanne MooneyMany people who suffered ritual abuse were “programmed” to self-destruct if they ever revealed their abusers’ secrets. While people who never suffered from ritual abuse might believe this sounds like a bad plot in a science fiction movie, numerous survivors of childhood ritual abuse share the same story.

When somebody’s behavior arises out of programming, that behavior feels compulsive and seems to come out of left field. For example, when I was a teenager, I struggled with deep depression and contemplated suicide. I thought about the various ways to die, and I settled upon swallowing a jar of pills to be my “method of choice.” I fought off and overcame my suicidal urges in high school and never revisited that deep dark place.

In my mid-thirties, I entered into therapy after I began having flashbacks. As the flashbacks moved from “regular” abuse to ritual abuse, I suddenly started having strong urges to slash my wrists with a knife. When these thoughts would come into my head, I would “think” the phrase, “Watch the lifeblood flow out of me.” I came to realize that this was programming. At no point did I ever “choose” the method of suicide through using a knife: This was chosen for me.

I also experienced programming in self-injury, and I later recovered the memory of the programming. As a teenager, my father died suddenly, and my mother began abusing me again. I never self-injured. I endured years of fertility treatments in which I desperately wanted to become pregnant. Despite very heavy emotions, I never self-injured. It never even crossed my mind to do so. I never self-injured as I recovered memories of my mother’s abuse or abuse by several other abusers.

As soon as I started to recover memories of the ritual abuse, I had very strong compulsions to bang my head rhythmically against a brick wall. It wasn’t just any brick wall but a specific one with mortar than was not smoothed out. I resisted the urge to bang my head into walls and forced myself to use a pillow, but I was powerless to stop the compulsions. When they hit, I had a very short window to reach a pillow.

Chrystine Oksana’s book Safe Passage to Healing is a wonderful resource for anyone who has suffered from ritual abuse. In this book, she talks about ritual abuse programming and how to dismantle it. The good news is that, because programming is “foreign,” it is much easier to dismantle than many of the negative feelings that a person develops in reaction to the abuse. One of the biggest hurdles is recognizing the programming for what it is.

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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Yesterday was a very rough day. I have been waiting a long time to get my son medicated for his Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Hub and I have not been on the same page about this issue from the beginning. The doctor prescribed medication in pill form, which my seven-year-old son is afraid to swallow. Long story short, I could not get him to take the pills, and hub and I wound up in a screaming match with hub “forbidding” me to request another form of medication for our son because we already spent a large amount of money on those pills.

I am sure this is a situation experienced by numerous households all over the world, but my reaction was far more intense than I would imagine most people would react. The problem is that anything involving my kid triggers issues about myself. My husband’s refusal to consider another form of medication (leaving me to try to “force” pills down his throat or forego necessary medication) triggered all of the feelings of hopelessness. It made me feel like I was facing a “Sophie’s Choice” of two unacceptable options. Whenever I feel cornered like this, my need to self-injure by banging my head becomes overwhelming.

Fortunately, this has not happened to me in well over a year. I have become much better about setting boundaries and refusing to let other people run my life. However, for whatever reason, I felt cornered and succombed to the overwhelming urge to self-injure. I was in such a bad place that it was the better alternative to what I wanted to do.

My sister, who also has a history of self-injury, talked me down, and she helped me to see that I do have choices. I withdrew the cost of the medication from my own account (I have a personal account that I fund with my paychecks from writing jobs) and placed it on the table for hub. Now, I will get whatever medication my son needs, and hub cannot complain about the cost because I am paying for it. And if he tries to back me into a corner again, I will come out fighting rather than harm myself again.

I hate that I went to that place again. I hate that I can still be triggered to that very deep, dark place in such a short period of time. I am grateful that I was able to pull out of the nosedive and be okay. I am also grateful that I was able to feel the pain rather than continue to “bang it away.” I probably cried for five hours yesterday, and I feel better for it, although I also feel spent.

It bothers me that I can still be driven to self-injury. It bothers me that the person who mostly has the “power” to trigger this in me is my spouse, who should be my safe place to fall instead of the one making me feel cornered. I have a lot to think about, but for now I am too tired. I just want to recuperate from a very rough day.

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