The Paradox of Self Harm in a World of Quick Fixes

 

rubik.cube.02Today I’d like to talk about some serious paradoxes of modern society. Could this explain in part why we are so ill? And why is self-harm occurring at such alarming rates?

  • Society tells us to love our bodies but then offers lipo and  tummy tucks to fix those problem areas.
  • Society tells us to seek materialism, buy more things, but then condemns us for not finding happiness in it.
  • Society tells us we’re beautiful but then bombards us with very unnatural makeup products.
  • Society tells us to grow old gracefully but then pushes a multi-billion dollar anti-aging campaign on us.
  • Society tells us effort is the most important thing  but then drapes young adults with cords at graduation and has a ceremony to honor outcome.
  • Society tells us to love ourselves and take time for self-care but then pushes little white or blue pills at us to remedy our sadness, or loneliness or brokenness.
  • Society wants us to be connected to our families, our neighbors, our friends but then values Facebook and Instagram likes more than phone calls and hugs.

{{Society tells us we are not good enough……and we listen.}}

It seems absurd to the majority of the population that harming oneself would ever feel better than not harming oneself. In fact, self-harm behaviors contradict what appears to be reasonable, logical and acceptable ways of self care, even in a world of quick fixes. But I’ve worked with enough self-harmers to tell you definitively, self-harmers are seeing all of those societal expectations and more. And they are condemning themselves for not measuring up.

This condemning takes the form of self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, anger, and being overwhelmed and its so unbearable to be stuck in this emotional storm that they find a way to shelter themselves. Self-preservation though self-mutilation of the body’s soft tissue. The act offers a temporary but effective quick fix. The emotional pain goes away, instantly, for the moment. Quick fix. Society likes that, no doubt, except this one is taboo, shameful, and “bad”.

So what do we do? How do we change? First understand quick fix and society’s paradoxes. Then work towards understanding why self-harm happens, and why it happens again.

Peace be with you my friends.

I’m Not Crazy: The Social Stigma of Therapy

Business patient talking about his private problems at phychological session

Throughout the years, and because of my profession, I’ve often had the chance in a non-clinical setting to lend an ear to people from all walks of life who are struggling with something. It may be something as big as childhood molestation or as small as being easily frustrated by a spouse’s habits. Sometimes it’s anxiety or depression or anger. All things big and small share a common element. These things occupy valuable real estate in the person’s mind and draws uncomfortable emotions to the surface, while detracting from a life filled with joy and peace.

After listening intently I ultimately suggest therapy as an option to deal with said thing. “Oh no, I’m not crazy!”

It’s a much more common response than you might think and I’m saddened there is still a social stigma attached to mental health help. I ask why they think going to therapy means they’re crazy. Sometimes I get blown off. But, sometimes, I get a chance to dispel the myths surrounding therapy and mental health.

Here are my thoughts on who goes to see a therapist and why, from a therapists perspective.

Most people who go to therapy go to help themselves cope with intense and uncomfortable feelings they don’t like having.  PERIOD.

Many people go to help themselves cope with normal, every day stress and some go to improve relationships. Often people go for moderate problems and it is not true that people who go are “really messed up”. Most people go for only a short time before they begin to feel better (8 to 12 sessions). There’s no rule that says one has to go for a long time or dig into their past. And for that matter, it can be exactly what the person wants it to be. A good therapist will work on what the client wants to work on by helping the person navigate the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that keep them “stuck”.

People who go to therapy know there is a difference between talking to a friend and talking to a therapist. A therapist can help them reach their goal. Most people do not need to go on medication to start feeling better, but some do decide to go on medication while in therapy. Neither being in therapy, nor taking medication, makes you crazy. In my opinion it makes one proactive, courageous, and demonstrates self-care.

Therapy is a tool in your coping tool box. Sometimes you need to pull out the right tool for the right task. If you’re unhappy or anxious or want to change something that is taking up space in your zen zone, consider therapy. There is no shame in taking steps to improve one’s mental health. It’s one of the best things a person can do for themselves. Know what you need and how to get it in a healthy way. There’s nothing better than that.

For information on getting effective therapy see my blog post entitled

Good Therapy: Are You Getting It?

seek therapy 2

What’s Your Client’s ACE Score?

child

The topic of childhood trauma has been in the news a lot in the past 15 years. From the Sandy Hook shooting to Hurricane Katrina to the Wold Trade Center terrorist attack, it seems more and more children are experiencing tragedy. On a smaller scale, every day children across the United States experience domestic violence, drug abuse in the home, a family member’s mental illness, divorce and a number of other significant life events. All of these experiences are adverse and are potentially and likely harmful to the development of the child. In fact, if you experienced toxic stress in childhood, you likely are more prone to health consequences, both physical and emotional.

toxic stress

As our understanding of the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has come into light, so have advances in Trauma-Informed Practices in the mental health field. But how can one quantify Adverse Childhood Experiences and their effect on one’s quality of life and their life span? This article seeks to inform the reader about one tool that can be used to assess a client’s childhood adversity, the ACE score.

In 1997 the largest study to date on the effects of childhood trauma was conducted as a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. More than 17,000 insurance members provided detailed information about their experiences with abuse, neglect and family dysfunction before the age of 18. Participants also underwent a comprehensive physical examination. A link to these questionnaires can be found here http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/questionnaires.html

The results were astounding. Certain childhood experiences showed a strong correlation to some of the leading causes of illness, death and social problems. Listed below are the correlates.

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

(Data taken from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/findings.html)

Looking at the data from ACEs alone only gives us half a picture. Therapists understand that trauma impacts everyone differently and that what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. So how do we measure the impact of trauma? We need to also look at a clients resilience. Although there is not yet a standardized measure for resilience, the one found here Resilience Questionnaire  is a good start to furthering your understanding. Resilience encompasses certain protective factors, including external factors such as positive relationships and internal factors such as mental attributions.

Armed with these new data points, how can you use your client’s ACE score and resilience score to develop a more effective and comprehensive treatment plan? Can you help your client develop an understanding of how these childhood traumas impact their functioning today? How can you foster resilience in your client?  Using a client’s ACE score and resilience factors can help you provide high quality treatment to a wide client base.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe and leave a comment.

More detailed information about ACEs can be found here http://www.acesconnection.com/home and here http://acestoohigh.com/

 

 

This is Going to Hurt, but Only for a Minute: Why Change is Hard.

photo

Yep, that’s where the change got painful, right between those two sea shells. It all started with the thought I’ve been telling myself, for 12 years. “I hate that cornflower blue bathroom! One day, it’s comin’ down!” It was a truth only known to me, as others didn’t seem to be bothered by it. “I like it. It’s retro,” said every friend I have. “It’s old but it’s in perfect condition. Why would you change it?” But it was my truth, and I held it dearly, so a change was a ‘comin’. And that change began in the twilight of last night.

I went into the project with an optimism only a DIYer can have. Do you know it? Start with this wall tonight, then the other tomorrow. Then move on to the fun stuff…paint, fixtures, stuff! Haha, right! Sometimes change is kinda hard (that’s what I was expecting, kinda hard, like ripping off a bandage) and sometimes it’s WOAH!!!!-What-did-I-get-myself-in-to-hard!!

Do you see this?

in wall

And this?

mesh backing

Yep, that’s TWO INCHES of concrete followed by a wire mesh backer! Let the pain of that set in. Let regret, remorse and other “r” words flood your mind. Maybe the cornflower blue wasn’t so bad after all, I think to myself in a panic. Why didn’t I just have the tiles sprayed white? I asked myself. Am I even strong enough to continue this? I ask. But once one is in the throws of it, what can one do? After I searched the internet for how to remove this stuff, and after I whined to my boyfriend a little bit (okay, a lot!), I did what most people do and that is, get on with the change process.

And that got me to thinking again about the concept of change. All change is a process, and painful, even if you know the outcome will be good! Think about the change process of a new, higher paying job. A move to your ideal neighborhood. Turning in your Dodge Charger for a family minivan to accommodate your ever-expanding beautiful family (that one’s for my friend Ryan who cried at this change!). Some change we look forward to and some we don’t, but I believe all change is on the mental pain spectrum. Sometimes it even mimics the grief process. There’s denial and disbelief. There’s anger. There’s bargaining. There’s depression. And finally, acceptance. For some things, it’s a bandage, for others, it’s a tile wall followed by two layers of cement and a wire backing. I think you know which one this is.  🙂

What changes have been the hardest or easiest for you?

The Starfish Story

image

Have you heard the starfish story? It goes a little something like this:

A man was walking along the beach early one morning. Down the beach he saw a young person dashing back and forth into the surf. He smiled thinking the person was enjoying a game on this beautiful morning so he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw the young person carefully picking something out of the sand, running to the surf and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The young person paused the game, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “The sun is up and the tide is going out, if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” “But don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it?” “You can’t possibly make a difference!” After listening politely he bent down, picked up another starfish and gently threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”

image

Everyone Matters.