The sound of a defensive arrow

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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.

Reflections are important for me

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 def20130916-173515.jpgending 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.

Different constructions
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 the20130917-093800.jpg 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.


His blog:

on twitter:


 353 kr



Svein Øverland

More on self-harm

Sofia Åkerman, Humanist forlag 2011
-En selvbiografi om spiseforstyrrelser og selvskading-

other Norwegian pages: – 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.

Klara Klok
Spørreside for ungdom og unge voksne i aldersgruppen 10 – 30



12 thoughts on “The sound of a defensive arrow

    lexborgia said:
    September 17, 2013 at 13:00

    Thanks for finding the time to share this, MG, it was quite uplifting. And I hope your trip is everything you imagined it to be, and much more. Cheers.

      mirrorgirl responded:
      September 17, 2013 at 19:44

      Hi love:)

      I have written a lot the last weeks, but unfortunately many drafts and plans that I never can sit down with. Maybe I`ll do something about that the next couple of days 🙂 How are you? NY was really something;)

        lexborgia said:
        September 18, 2013 at 09:46

        Germany is becoming dark, cold and rainy at record speed, but I’m okay, and happy to hear you’re enjoying your trip.

    NIKOtheOrb said:
    September 17, 2013 at 13:02

    This does make sense.

    Self-defense mechanisms, the walls put around the self to help protect it, or around the mind to keep it from plummetting into insanity or psychosis, are human’s way of preservation. An interesting development, yes, albeit it saddening that it has become, in some cases, a necessity. This does present a challenge to a therapist, doesn’t it? For how does the therapist tear down this wall without doing damage, without harm? Trust must play a very large part of therapy in order to piece by piece unmake these walls, to get beyond the self-defense mechanisms so that the patient can begin to heal or recover or to know better one’s self and consciousness.

    As your images depict, walls can come in many forms. . . a mask, intense emotion, silence, denial, etc. What an enlightening comparison you have made to the book you read to those walls that exist within the human psyche.

      mirrorgirl responded:
      September 17, 2013 at 15:49

      Thank you Niko for sharing your everpresent perspectives and thoughts on a subject I can (and probably will) write about until the end of time. You are so right in trust being essential. Without it, we jump into a empty river or use a defective parachute. This is an extremely important point that you were right to point out. Any ideas how to best navigate in those murky waters. I like ” the construction” methafor. Like a beautiful house built together with nature itself, I would like to craft a beautiful door of my patients choosing. We will make it unique and beautiful, so that it always will be pleasant to walk through it.

      The book was really amazing. It was in Norwegian (maybe I can find it in English) by a psychologist in Norway (Øverland, one of the “experts” in this field)

    Samantha Jane said:
    September 17, 2013 at 16:50

    If you find it in English, can you post what it is? I would be interested in reading it. I have yet to find something new and innovative. Most everything available in the US is the same old stuff. I find it ineffective much of the time (both for myself and my former clients).

      mirrorgirl responded:
      September 17, 2013 at 19:42

      Tried to look, but there is just books on Norwegian, and one on Swedish.l The only english book from him is about stalking:( Too bad. Will see if I find any other good books about self-harm on english. What are your recommendations?

        Samantha Jane said:
        September 17, 2013 at 20:34

        Thanks for trying. So far the best I have read is “treating self injury” but I don’t remember who it is by (its in storage in another state so I can’t even check). I wish there was more work on it. I do like the training Sidran does on the Rising Connections curriculum tho. It was developed by some clinicians in Massachusetts. It’s a trauma-informed treatment model mostly used in group homes/kids residential programs, but can be applied to any trauma client (was originally geared towards private practice clinicians for adults, then they switched the focus to kids). So far it’s the best program/literature I found out there. I was a trainer for it for a while. I should do a blog on that model some day.

    Michael Silver said:
    September 18, 2013 at 17:56

    Hi – I’ve put together a recent list for 2013:
    Books About Self Harm

      mirrorgirl responded:
      September 18, 2013 at 18:37

      Thank you so much, this was really good timing:)

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