January 11, 2015

How to get out of the Rut of Self-Harming Thoughts & Feelings.

dierk schaefer/Flickr

Every single one of us is guilty of treating ourselves poorly at some point during our lives.

Unfortunately, some of us are guilty of doing it for long periods of time.

Common examples include being easily frustrated, continually angry, forever unforgiving, always stressed, resentful toward others, constantly jealous, hateful in general, behaving cruelly, commonly abusive, insecurity issues, plagued by fear, dishonest in life, lack of self-respect, living in denial, victim mentality and frequently sad.

The mind is a very powerful tool, and if used inappropriately it can be very damaging to oneself.

Therefore, these states of being are negative and disharmonious vibrations, which have significant impacts on our health. Sometimes these states can even lead to serious physical and mental health complications; they are dis-ease, which consequently lead to disease.

Another epidemic in our society is thinking and feeling negatively about ourselves. This can manifest in plethora of ways, such as being critical about who we are, including certain elements of our development.

Even though it is true that all of us have ways in which we need to grow, it’s a growth that never ends. We never actually reach an ideal self: it’s a journey of self-healing and self-development, not a destination. So if we harshly criticize ourselves for being underdeveloped in certain ways, then we’re destined to do that throughout our entire lives.

This is simply not fair to ourselves.

However, sometimes our self-harming thoughts and feelings were birthed from childhood trauma. They might be the result of our environmental influences, such as learning them from our parents, or a product of social pressures regarding image, success and self-worth. Our chemical make-up, too, could be an influential factor.

Regardless of the exact sources and mechanisms of our self-harming behaviors, we ultimately have the responsibility to take care of ourselves once we reach adulthood. If we’ve been living in this rut for a long period of time, we need to accept that it is our choice to continue that way.

The beneficial aspect of embracing this truth is that it’s empowering to take ownership of how we treat ourselves.

When our self-harm becomes a serious health issue, sometimes we are diagnosed with a disorder and prescribed medication. However, drugs aren’t the cure to these dysfunctional psychological states, they are simply a tool that assists in proper chemical production so that the issue is easier to live with whilst we look for and undertake ways to resolve it.

What actually cures most dysfunctional mental states is effective psychotherapy. It is usually reserved for a professional to guide; however, that is for severe cases or when a person is actually able to access them.

The truth is we can undertake psychotherapy ourselves. In fact, we already do it. Every time we have had insight into a problematic state of mind and undertook changes to remove or alter it, it was psychotherapy in action.

For example, if we realized that we were way too angry and then transformed into a more cool, calm and collected person, we developed our internal and external behaviors. We healed and grew ourselves.

This is a primary focus that we should always have in our adult lives. In what ways do we need to learn, heal and grow so that we become more functional and content people, both for ourselves and those around us? How long have we maintained these self-harming behaviors? Isn’t it about time that we resolved these issues? Don’t we deserve that?

Everybody deserves to be free of self-harm, especially because it’s all too common to project it onto others in un-compassionate and abusive ways. Therefore, once it’s removed, it’s a win/win.

So if our self-harming isn’t a serious detriment to our health and a professional isn’t required, how do we undertake psychotherapy on ourselves?

It’s easier than you might think, so just follow this simple formula:

1.    Identify the self-harming behaviour.
2.    Identify the behaviour you want to replace it with.
3.    Call yourself out when you are self-harming in that way.
4.    Immediately replace the self-harming behaviour with its alternative.
5.    Repeat until the self-harming behaviour has been permanently transcended.

This is a very simplified way of understanding it, but this is actually how psychotherapy works.

We are not only redesigning how we think, but also rewiring our neurological pathways in our cerebral brain (which contains 100 billion neurons), our digestive brain (which contains 100 million neurons) and our heart brain (which contains 40 thousand neurons). Because of this physiological rewiring, we can understand why it takes continued attempts to make it a permanent feature of who we are.

If we continually repeat the practice, it becomes hardwired, and therefore our conditioned response.

A good representation for self-administered psychotherapy is when we go to bed at night. Sometimes we have something on our mind and it keeps cycling over and over again, ensuring that we don’t fall to sleep.

Usually our response is to tell ourselves to think of nothing, so that we do fall asleep. We do that, the thoughts come back, we do it again, the thoughts come back, we do it again and then somewhere along the way the cycle is broken and we stop thinking and fall asleep.

The continued process of forcing ourselves to think a certain way—because we have the insight to want to change and grow ourselves—is literally redesigning and rewiring our minds. Of course it won’t change overnight, like in the case of falling asleep, but if we vigilantly remain focused on changing one state of our mind to another state, it will happen.

In terms of more complex dysfunctional mind states, such as depression, it’s helpful to revert to our philosophical beliefs.

For example, when we feel sad, we contextualize that sadness into a bigger philosophical picture which can, over time, help us to feel happier.

That philosophical picture can be something simple like, “I believe that I am fortunate to have access to food, water, shelter and the other basic necessities of life, something that many other people in this world aren’t so fortunate to have.”

Or it could be of a spiritual nature, such as “I am meant to have this experience to help me become a stronger person.”

No matter what we choose, when we constantly remind ourselves of the bigger picture, we have a different style of thinking which is more grateful, inevitably leading to greater happiness and contentment.

In any case, the same principle is being applied; we continually change the way that we think, which changes the way that we feel, which changes the way that we think, and so on. Eventually, we will have reached our desired state of being.

The technical, scientific term which allows this to physiologically take place is neuroplasticity, which effectively means neurological pathways are capable of changing, even after the cerebral brain stops naturally growing at the age of around 25 years. The psychological term is, of course, psychotherapy.

Ultimately, if we want to get out of the rut of self-harming thoughts and feelings, we can. It’s a challenging process and is certainly not easy, but with enough persistence, commitment, sacrifice, courage, will and strength, it will happen.

Our health and happiness depends on it.



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Author: Phil Watt

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: dierk schaefer/Flickr

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