My fingers are freezing. Several people around me are sitting with their sleeves drawn down as far as possible, to keep the trinkets of warmth alive. The air-condition is spitting out its icy message: ‘I’ll make sure no drop of sweat manifests itself on your forehead’. I register it and think about the irony. Outside it’s actually quite warm, much warmer than it would be in Norway, but it seems people would rather feel cold than warm. I’m at the bus from Baltimore to New York and have for three hours read a book about self-harm.
Several times I had to just stop and let my eyes rest on the view, since some emotions rose in me. It was some sense of happiness, growing in me after reading about different treatment-approachs ( to self-harm and problems with emotion regulation).
I also grew fond of the author, because of his integrity and obvious respect for his patients. He truly cares about them all, and this compassion awakened his ability to creative new thoughts that elegantly weaves into well-known models. He made them rich partly because they associated with other ideas. Together this was pure mind-candy for my psychology-hungry state of mind (who said not working was great?).
The spider-web of associations made my thoughts light up with memories of people I’ve met. So many of them have shown me love, and I feel gratitude curling itself like a cotton nest in my stomach.
The reason for putting the book aside and writing down this now, was because I read about a lovely metaphor that I just had to share with you. My heart immediately reacted with speeding up its heavy thuds, since what I read made perfect sense and resonated within me.
Maybe you will like it as much as me ?
Defensive walls in a bloody war
Imagine a wall defending a city. In the book this safety-precaution was compared to the defensive walls in the movie ‘the lord of the rings’. In one battle scene a city is on the brink of invasion by the orks. This means that every boy and man have go into battle regardless of their preferences or experiences. Even a little boy, shaking in his boots so that the too huge helmet clatter, must defend the city against the enemy. Everything looks hopeless until the elves suddenly appear. They help them so they survive and win, but only until they can fight for themselves.
The author of the book compares the war to defense. Their defense is iron-wrought pillars gathered from cuts that colored its surface. Sometimes their enemies (thoughts, emotions, memories or people they can’t trust) are lurking and they try to cement their construction with the few materials and resources they got or collected. Examples of the defensive actions can be to distract the beasts with carving their skin, believing this piece of art will awaken the hunger of the beasts. Like martyrs they settle for contributing what little they know and can do.
If the enemy has been inoculated against bloody fingerprints the fierce fighters can jump over the walls in full destruction-mode (By acting out and possibly hurting both friend and foe). As the enemies draw closer,the unexperienced heroes of war, become afraid and desperate. This in turn colors the type of defensive strategy they unmask. Often they go from mental to continually concrete and physical types of defense (from denial and avoidance to self-harm or violence). Ignoring the orks will sadly mean feeding the orks with their souls. For an eternity.
Is it really strange that they use the only defense they can think off when it looks like the walls will not hold ? When one feel control slipping away, ‘irrational things’ like cutting themselves might be the only mechanism they had that brought relief.
Think about the samurai’s from Japan: By killing themselves, they didn’t have to face the shame of losing against their enemies. Further; What about all the lovely people who tries to hide their ‘dark’ emotions because they think people will shunt them if not? Isn’t it understandable that instead of letting other respond to their emotion, they rather run away from it than to face it, especially when considering the addition burden of trauma many have in their pasts?
A child who misbehaves and gets punished for it might harvest their own baskets of anger. Is it strange they can be terrified of their parents ‘discovering’ they’ve been cutting their skin, when they sometimes believe they always do wrong and deserve what they get?
What can we therapists do ?
When a patients shows you the honor of telling about their shameful thoughts and actions, try to not be the ‘enemy’ who wants to breach the walls. Let them see that you come in peace, and wait until they feel safe enough to look over the wall for a bit, thereby letting us discover their battle scars from earlier war-zones. Remember that they naturally can be extremely sensitive and guarded after such experiences .
It’s sometimes easier to attack first than risking getting an arrow in your heart, and our job is to respect that and fight along with them, just like the elves.
More on self-harm
Sofia Åkerman, Humanist forlag 2011
-En selvbiografi om spiseforstyrrelser og selvskading-
other Norwegian pages:
ung.no – informasjonskanal for ungdom
Drevet av barne-, ungdoms- og familiedirektoratet
Psykisk Helse i Skolen
Opplæringsprogrammer i psykisk helse
Si det med ord
Drives av interesseorganisasjonen Mental Helse Norge.
Lavterskeltjenester for mennesker som trenger noen å snakke med eller skrive til.
Spørreside for ungdom og unge voksne i aldersgruppen 10 – 30