In episode 322, I received a question from an individual struggling with their mental health who often carries out self-injurious behavior in response to coping with anger and rage. In this post, I dive into more detail and offer my thoughts on how you can begin addressing these issues and start on the road to a more positive future.
I’ve struggled with depression, self-diagnosed, since I was young. I’m 32 now. Been through some rough things as a teen, [sexually abused] in my own home, not by family, and I’ve always struggled with suicidal thoughts kind of since. I’ve got a bad habit of head-butting things to kind of stop me when I get so mad and go into rages. I hate I get so mad. I hate myself for everything. But I love to help people. I clean for the elderly and help them as much as I can. I have a son and fiancé of 13 years. He was my biggest savior, and I love them both dearly that’s why I want help. I’ve fallen into my depression hard the last few years and I don’t know what to do about it. My man and I just got into an argument and I head butted the table so hard I blacked both my eyes. I wanted to and thought I might have killed myself that night. That’s not fair to my son. I want to feel normal. I’ve never talked to anyone bc my [parents] brushed me off and never had the chance or means to do so. I ask if you would be the best for me to talk to? Can you or your wife help? I miss being happy and can’t find my way back. It’s especially hard after my grandma died in 2021. But I feel lost and want to find help. I feel as I can’t do anything right or make anyone happy. It’s not fun..
Thank you for the question. First off, I am so sorry that you’re going through this. This is serious stuff that you’re talking about and I’m sorry that you’ve had to go for so long without getting help. I know when you come from a family that doesn’t talk about mental health or brushes off your concerns, it’s hard to know where you stand in relation to the general population. It’s normal to minimize your experience or think that you’re not that bad. But I want to let you know that the things you are describing here are serious. This isn’t a mild mental health concern.
You are talking about suicidality and self-injury. You need to get some help. You could potentially cause yourself serious permanent harm. To be clear, I don’t blame you for the self-injurious behavior. I’m just concerned. You don’t really have another outlet at this point. The frustration and anger build and build, but you have no outlet. This is your attempt to release that frustration in a way that’s not harming anyone else. A lot of people self-harm in some way for this reason. Not an attempt to end their own life, but just due to an overflow of emotion when you lack other ways to process things. But think about it this way – if you are headbutting things hard enough to give yourself black eyes, you are also at risk of giving yourself a brain injury. Can you imagine if you were to give yourself a brain injury that permanently changed your functioning in such a way that you were not able to be the same person for your son or fiance?
Build a strategy skillset
So first things first – you need some coping skills. You need another way aside from banging your head against things to deal with the strong emotions that you are feeling. One of the most helpful tools is going to be a breathing strategy. I have talked a lot about breathing before in various places. I did an old episode of the podcast, which I’d encourage you to check out. It’s episode 60 – available on the website. The gist is that you need to learn how to activate your relaxation response. It’s the part of your nervous system that is built in to help you calm down after a fight or flight moment. The way you do that is with deep belly breaths. You also need to practice breathing exercises regularly so that you can make good use of it when you are under pressure in the moment. The idea here is that you have already practiced reducing your level of bodily reactivity and when you find yourself building up to an explosion, you can instead use a breathing exercise to calm you down. You aren’t going to go fully back to baseline. You just need to reduce enough to make another decision.
This brings me to my next point. You probably need to find some way to get separation from the person or thing that is driving you crazy in that moment. Simply walking to another room and taking some of these deep breaths might be enough to interrupt the pattern so that you don’t explode. The other thing to remember is that with things like anxiety and anger, your brain actually gets worse at complex reasoning when you are feeling such strong emotions. So, not only are you feeling like your head is going to explode, you are reduced in your ability to think clearly and problem-solve. For your family, you may want to talk about this ahead of time and let them know that you will be trying a different strategy so they don’t think you are just straight up walking out on them or ignoring them.
Lastly, for the coping strategies, you may want to start keeping a journal to track information related to these explosive situations. You can do this after the fact when something has already happened. Break down what lead up to the event, how you felt, and what happened. This can help you start to learn your triggers. As I said before, you need to get some help. I think that you really really need to get some treatment.
Utilize medication and therapy
In my opinion, this would be best approached from both the medication and therapy side. There are medications that would be great options for you. Most likely an SSRI that you take each day to reduce the overall severity of depression and anxiety. This can make it so that you have more wiggle room to work with before you explode and hurt yourself. Therapy is also something that I think would be greatly beneficial for you. Really, with the intensity of what you are experiencing, you could start anywhere. I have a guide on how to find a therapist at duffthepsych.com/findatherapist. Through the reduction of symptoms from the medication and the coping skills/insight that you can gain from therapy, you can make a huge difference for yourself. For some people in a situation like yours, there would be some fear of what might pop up trauma-wise in therapy. But I want to reassure you that you don’t have to dive straight into that if you don’t want to. The therapist should be able to help you pace yourself and approach things in a way that feels safe.
One of the things that you will be doing by getting help is providing good modeling for your son. You are facing your issues and trying to take good care of yourself. You are being responsible and working toward a better future for you and for him. That’s amazing stuff. He can learn a lot by seeing that. I think that in some ways, the trauma that you have experienced in your past has kept parts of you from developing at the rate that the rest of you has. It’s not like you are a child, but there are parts of you that might be immature. If you think of it in that way, what does a child do when they are so frustrated and they feel backed into a corner? A lot of them end up lashing out and hitting, throwing, or hurting themselves. It’s not your fault. This is because of what happened to you and the failure of your parents to get you help or acknowledge what you have experienced. In some ways, you are taking the responsibility that they never did and working toward reparenting those young parts of yourself. It’s time to start now though. You need to get some help. For everyone involved, but especially for yourself. You deserve to have relief from this and it is totally possible.
You can do it! Every small step will help.
You can listen to this on Episode 322 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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