BPD mythbuster #4: Self-harm and transference

The impulse to self-harm is not something well understood by people who have never had the impulse themselves. Images that pop into people’s heads is one of sheer madness and out-of-control psycho-attention-seeking behavior.

I myself can understand both sides. As far as self-harming goes, even though I’ve contemplated the thought, I’ve never exactly had the desire to cut myself. I hate the sight of blood and I hate the kind of pain that derives from cutting. I honestly couldn’t even fathom it. Therefore, I can see how shocking it is for non-self-harmers.

However, even though I was never a cutter, I was a burner. Tit for tat you might say… and you may be right but for me burning seemed so much more sophisticated and far less messy. I could employ sweet-smelling candles or the lit end of a robustly scented insence stick.

Attention seeking? Yes, it can’t be denied that drawing attention to being in accute and unexplainable pain is most definitely part of it. Can’t you see my scars?!? Don’t you even care how much I’m hurting?!?

However, the chief reason why I chose to burn myself is that it worked like a sort of transference. This term is ordinarily used to explain the odd psychological phenomenon wherein one person will transfer their emotional pain from one person to another. This happens all the time right? Hatred for a father can later get transferred to a husband or a therapist, for instance.

Self-harm, for me anyway, worked like a kind of transference in that my emotional and psychological pain would then get transferred to physical pain, which can be far easier to deal with… go fetch some sauve and a band-aid. Emotional pain can sometimes be far worse and more debilitating than physical pain. I believe this is especially true for people with BPD. Emotional pain can feel like repeadly being stabbed with a dull knife or beaten with a large stick.

So, when I read this helpful page on the NAMI website on Self-harm I was rather amazed that it described perfectly how this works. If you’re a self-harmer this is a helpful page to read.

One of the best aspects of recovery is that I no longer have any desire whatsoever to hurt myself, and that is a great thing!

Here are two more pages on self-harm I found helpful.

Understanding self-harm on NAMI
Self-harm on Mind

More BPD topics:
BPD mythbuster #3: Learning and self-healing
BPD mythbuster #2: Acceptance

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8 thoughts on “BPD mythbuster #4: Self-harm and transference

  1. Oh, OK. I see. With your explanation, JoAnn, I understand much better. I’m not a self-harmer, though I know people who are. Your thoughtful description lifts the veil for me.

    Actually, I qualify my earlier denial by observing we’re all self-harmers to some degree. At least in response to purely physical pain. How many times have I (and most others) squeezed a wrist or pinched a forearm to “distract” from an aching stomach or a throbbing headache?

    Of course, what I describe above is common, mild, and G-rated stuff. For some though, as you point out, it’s a transference from emotional to physical pain, resulting in real, deep wounds. Pervasive emotional scars soon produce physical counterparts.

    Really wish I knew how I could help because, as mentioned, I know people thus encumbered.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, fortunately and unfortunately we are all still individuals. Some people will respond to someone wanting to help them and others won’t for whatever reason, embarrassment maybe, or denial. Some just don’t understand how or are uncomfortable with attracting in a positive way. It’s amazing how entrenched our behaviors can become, even the bad ones. Trying to figure out the reasoning behind someone’s actions isn’t always easy or explainable. I suppose the best thing to do is just to let a person know you are there for them whenever they are ready to talk about it and receive help. 🙂
      And yes we all self harm in some way whether it be with food food, alcohol or something else. Alas, we are all just crazy imperfect human beings. 😵 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What you say about transference from emotional and psychological pain to physical pain gave me an understanding for a little girl that I knew. She did it already when we were three years old, with scissors. I thought she just wanted to shock me, which might have been one aspect of it, but not the only one. Unfortunately that poor girl was abused both psychological and physical (her mother hit her), but in those days (end of 1950s), nobody was interested too much in the suffering of children. My mother talked to the woman, who was the abuser, while her husband was too weak to stand up to her, and with that their friendship ended.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow. I’m so sad for that girl. When I hear of things like that I realize how much has changed over the years, even from when I was a kid. Abuse still goes on but at least there are a lot more resources and options for helping children in such a situations. 😕🌷

      Liked by 2 people

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