How do you treat yourself? Self-harm is dangerous for mental health – 28/09/2020


We’re treating ourselves badly. With increasing pressure to be better and better, to produce more, to deliver better results, in addition to the relativity caused by social networks, in which we compare our entire life with a happy and successful percentage of others, the collection and internal self-criticism is causing us to increasingly detract from ourselves.

You may have already caught yourself saying or thinking phrases like “wow how I was / am dumb”, “how ugly I am” or “I don’t do anything right, I’m a failure”, etc. When it occurs occasionally, it can only reflect the frustration of something that has gone wrong at some point. But, when this becomes constant, it can be a sign that something is wrong with mental health.

According to Henrique Bottura, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, clinical director of the Instituto de Psiquiatria Paulista and collaborator of the Integrated Ambulatory Program for Impulse Disorders IPq of HC-FMUSP (Institute of Psychiatry, Hospital das Clínicas, University of São Paulo), all the time we have internal dialogues: we think, plan, analyze the wrong things we do, among many other possibilities. Having these conversations in a self-aggressive and self-punishing way is a functioning mechanism that can be present to a greater or lesser extent in all of us.

However, the psychiatrist states that there are those who exaggerate, being extremely hard on themselves, treating themselves in a negative and self-destructive way. “These harmful internal dialogues can reflect difficulties regarding self-love, what we call low self-esteem”, explains the doctor. It can also happen when you have an exaggerated level of self-demand or you can even suggest the presence of some psychiatric disorder such as depression, for example.

Low self-concept is common among people. For Eduardo Perin, psychiatrist at Unifesp (Federal University of São Paulo), specialist in CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) at the Anxiety Clinic of IPq HC-FMUSP, one of the explanations for self-deprecating behavior is to prevent others from criticizing him. “Another explanation is to really remember at all times how much is failed (in her view), which causes the self-concept to decrease even more”, he analyzes.

Brain and emotional functions can interfere

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Deborah Moss, neuropsychologist and master in Developmental Psychology at USP, says that brain functions can interfere. There are people, for example, who have more difficulty in self-control, which are neuropsychological functions. Often the person has an impulsive behavior and ends up compromising decision making, problem solving in everyday situations or self-control in matters involving stress.

“These functions are very much related to the prefrontal cortex, which is on the forehead and involves planning actions, reasoning and decision making. And this has a lot to do with social behavior, as this is the most human brain and differentiates us from animals “, explains Moss. She explains that people who act in this way may have a certain commitment in this control of impulses and difficulty in dealing with stressful situations, without going through the awareness of the aggressive reaction with themselves.

Emotional issues are also factors that can influence: everything is connected and it is not possible to separate one thing from the other. Treating yourself in a negative way is associated with self-esteem and may be related to an image distortion, in which the person idealizes something that he is not or cannot be, such as reaching certain beauty standards, for example.

“If you combine neuropsychological issues with environmental issues of demand, pressure and emotional issues, it all becomes a ‘time bomb’ that can fight against itself, reaching even the most extreme cases of self-mutilation and suicide”, he explains Moss. It complements that a restrained anger that a person has, an impotence, an inability to elaborate and an interpretation can lead someone to act impulsively and self-harm.

Family and social interference

External factors such as family, society and friends can interfere with a person’s behavior. The neuropsychologist says that we have to think that despite the totality of the human being, there is an exchange with the environment in which we live, which can favor or inhibit the tendencies of each one. So, yes, oppression, family issues and their dynamics, the affective relationships between the person’s life, all of these have a very important role in the way they will act, how they will respond to what will be required of them, for the good or for evil.

“This influence starts from childhood. Parents are the main caregivers and are the children’s first emotional bonds. This initial relationship will have an impact throughout life and has a very important role, but there are other influences throughout life that can be positive or negative, “adds Moss.

However, she does not believe that there is a direct causal relationship: people have all the capacity to change and to get out of these situations that occurred in childhood. So, for Moss, it is clear that this perception about parents is important, but it is not decisive. How the person will work it out, how he will try to change it in his life and take ownership of the situation will interfere with the result of how he will deal with himself and with problem situations.

Behaviors cannot be considered normal

Low self-esteem sadness - iStock - iStock
Image: iStock

Being hard on yourself at times may be necessary, sometimes we fail with something that we could have been better at and we can charge ourselves for. However, analyzes Bottura, some people are so hard on themselves that they do not generate mobilization or impetus for a process of improvement or personal development, on the contrary, they generate stagnation, paralysis, loss of ability to feel self-love, pride and happiness for personal achievements and the process of self-punishment become a constant: the person crystallizes the image of himself as something negative, insufficient and becomes an executioner of himself.

In these conditions the behavior is dysfunctional and the emotional life will work better if this pattern is corrected. When this exaggeration in self-harm happens, the person suffers and loses the ability to enjoy life, relationships and existence, which will affect mental health and can lead to more serious consequences such as depression.

As much as we need to be aware of our own, flaws, weaknesses and weaknesses and seek the internal willingness to evolve as people in the world, Bottura believes that living is a great challenge and that is why we need to be a good partner of ourselves. “If this is not the case, on this journey of existence, life becomes even more difficult. Sometimes being hard is necessary, but if we are not loving towards ourselves, even in what we are not good at, we will certainly not become better and live chronic pain from the feeling of insufficiency, which I consider a very heavy burden to carry along the path of life “, he ponders.

Tips to “take it easy” with yourself

  • Look at what you have built up to now with love and recognize what you are good at, giving value to your qualities and giving less weight to your imperfections and defects;
  • Keep in mind that we are beings capable of development in almost any area of ​​life and that if we want to improve on something we need to be the ideal leader of ourselves, which can be tough, but is never destructive;
  • Relieve stress: look for activities that give you pleasure in doing and that give you more lightness, such as sports, recreational activities or arts, for example. Extracting the pressure of day to day releases the accumulation and prevents a great wear and tear of physical and mental health;
  • Seeking therapy with mental health professionals can help with the self-knowledge process. Through psychotherapy or psychoanalysis it is possible to investigate what is behind this behavior and thus work on the problem.


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