In the news and in society we hear all the time about physical self harm, but we never hear about emotional self harm.
When we think about self harm we think about people cutting themselves or eating disorders. Sometimes we may even think about people putting themselves in risky situations.
Be honest with yourself though, how often do you think about all the emotional ways someone commits self harm? I don’t think any of us consider the emotional side of people enough. We don’t see it so it isn’t at the forefront of our minds.
With the abundance of anxiety and depression in today’s society, I believe emotional self harm is on the rise.
First, though, we need to define physical and emotional self harm. When I refer to physical self harm, I’m referring to self harm with physical manifestations. Examples of this would be eating disorders or cutting ones self. When I’m talking about emotional self harm, I’m referring to harm we cause ourselves purely on an emotional basis. An example of this would be allowing our anxieties to control our thoughts. Stewing upon the things that may or may not happen.
I think everyone at times commits emotional self harm and we don’t even realise it. The most basic forms of this would be regrets or thinking to ourselves “if only I did that instead.”
There is a difference with outcomes though. Because physical self harm stems from an emotional need, it can make you feel relieved or partly fulfilled. Depending on the type of self harm there may well be adrenaline and maybe even endorphins released. All this can make you feel slightly happier. Whereas emotional self harm is more like a bottomless pit of thoughts with your emotions flying all around you in the dark.
So if there is no positive emotions from emotional self harm then it begs the question, why do we even do it? I think there’s a few different categories of emotional self harm. It all depends on the time frame of the thoughts, past, present, or future.
Present and future usually falls under self protection and avoiding perceived danger. This will come from days of old when we called caves homes. As our thought processes have gotten more advanced we will have developed more sophisticated ways to try and predict danger.
In modern times we have so many stimuli for information. We have social media, the news, and the internet right at our fingertips. This can only increase the amount of times we try to predict danger as we read new information.
When it comes to the past, I think it’s all part of our method of learning. We may say it’s learning to accept the past, but it’s all to do with learning, categorising memories and our brains storing the information in a way it can make sense of it. It’s a form of mental backwards propagation.
If we think of our brains similar to a computer, every input, every memory and every output has to be interpreted into 1’s and 0’s and then we have to store the information and then retrieve that information.
Let’s think of a picture of a simple green triangle on a white background. Our brains would first interpret the simple shape through our eyes, it would then want to compare the information from the eyes to information in our memory. After the comparison it would then look at more details such as colour and then comparing the colour to our memory. After all of this it would then adjust our memories to the information we just interpreted.
So if you think about how complex that routine of our brains learning is, then when it comes to complex situations it is no surprise that we mentally self harm. It’s our brains trying to extrapolate and interpret all the information it possibly can.
Sometimes the problem with this though, is our memories aren’t always entirely accurate and the further away something was the more our memories lie. Then our memories affect how we see things in the future so how do we know it’s not all just messed up?
Well luckily the brain has a way of weighting inputs and memories which gives priorities to some over others. This is why it takes us so long to process certain memories and situations.
I know, it seams as if I’ve got off topic. But wait isn’t all this a way our minds can get stuck in loops making memories worse and worse? Exactly and that’s part of the mental self harm.
So the biggest causes of mental self harm come down to self protection and learning. This in a sense is some of the most primal things we do. The likelihood is, the more complicated society has got, the more we commit these acts, but we will have always committed them to a certain degree.
Despite mental self harm being so prevalent and such a basic concept in human nature, why do we find it so hard to talk about? Why, as a society, is it a topic we don’t seem to tackle? Does it boil down to “we only give a crap if we can see it” sort of attitude? Well I say to anyone that says that… go stand in a tornado. Go fly up to space without a space suit. I bet you’ll give a crap about what you can’t see then.