Bonus YSS: Rejection: a popular self-harm trigger

Social rejection is the most common trigger for teens to self harm. This is because we all want to feel part of something, like we fit in, like we are wanted, valued, alive. When we don’t feel this way, the hurt is really toward the self. And when the self hurts, people are not sure how to heal it. Take Joey as an example. She felt horribly rejected by her own father.

Joey was repeatedly abused by her father in elementary school. Her father would beat her while telling her what a horrible person she was. (If you read the trauma post, you’ll recognize this as a Type 2 Trauma (repeated) that has both physical and psychological consequences.) In order to survive these relentless attacks, Joey shut down emotionally. She needed to numb herself; to freeze in the face of danger in order to get through it. 

Because this was Joey’s survival strategy, it stuck with her. She began to shut down all the time. Even after her mother divorced her father and issued a restraining order against him (that means he was legally not allowed near them), Joey never learned how to regain her emotional awareness. Meaning, she shut out all emotions from her mind and body. She refused to allow the awareness of sensations into her consciousness. By the time Joey got to middle school she was so shut down that she began to cut herself in order to feel something, anything. 

So far you’ve learned that when kids lack the ability to recognize painful emotions and can’t manage them in an appropriate, effective manner, they often turn to self-harm. Joey provided an example of someone who experienced trauma as a child and felt terrible rejection as a result as well (since her father was the one traumatizing her). The pain was so intense that she turned to cutting as a way to manage it.

Joey’s mom turned out to be compassionate towards the situation.

When Joey’s mom learned that Joey was cutting, she started to learn about self-harm. She knew punishing her daughter was not the answer. Instead, together they sought help from a counselor and began talking about Joey’s cutting. They established that it was a symptom of a hurt that needed to be healed. At first, Joey could not name the pain, she could only tell her mom when she felt like cutting. But after keeping track of the incidents, and using those incidents as a way to start talking about the situation, they eventually found a language for Joey’s pain. This was the beginning of Joey’s healing process.

Healing is definitely the end goal for anyone who is engaging in self harm. These posts are meant to help you understand self-harm and to provide ideas, tools and resources so you can overcome the desire to self-harm or help a friend who is struggling. In either case, take it one day at a time and remember that people are available to help.

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