It all started when I was four years old. I remember my mother whipping me with a leather strap with such force that my legs would end up scarred…. The punishments were always severe, applied with rage and accompanied by threats and even rejection sometimes….
When I was alone, I would hurt myself physically, masochist style, and that would calm me down. My compulsion to hurt myself has helped me to relieve day-to-day stress and tension.
I understand that what I do is not normal. It alienates me from relationships. I have tried almost everything to stop hurting myself, but nothing works. While trying, my anxiety is so bad that I become another person.
What happened to you was tragic! We are so sorry! Your mother began abusing you when you were only four years old, and scientific studies have shown that those early childhood years are a time of rapid brain development. At that very time, the abuse you were suffering caused chemical and electrical reactions in your brain that tangled and confused the connections and associations your brain was developing.(1)
Victims of childhood abuse have been shown to have a predisposition for anxiety disorders, attachment disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, trauma disorders, and a variety of other kinds of mental illness.(2) Your compulsion to hurt yourself as a way of relieving your anxiety is a coping mechanism that your four-year-old brain discovered. You literally grew up experiencing an association between hurt and anxiety relief, so your brain is thoroughly convinced that there is no other way to manage. That is why you have not been able to stop your unhealthy behavior even though your adult self knows that it is not normal.
We wish that there were simple steps that we could give you to solve this problem, but it’s not that easy. Your problem is a medical condition, and we’re not qualified to deal with medical issues. So you need to see a medical doctor as soon as possible. Tell the doctor about the early childhood abuse you suffered and about your current compulsion to hurt yourself. The doctor should refer you to a psychiatrist, who is the specialist with the best training and preparation to deal with brain issues and mental illness.
There is no shame in being the victim of abuse. You didn’t cause it and you did nothing to deserve it. It was a crime, and you were the victim. And as every other victim of abuse, you need some medical treatment to help you cope with the long-term effects of what happened to you.
In addition to seeing a medical doctor, we also strongly recommend that you read the advice that we gave in Case 523 to find out some other ways to help with your anxiety by meditating on God’s message to us found in the Bible.
We wish you well,
1 Leonard Holmes, Ph.D., “How Emotional Abuse in Childhood Changes the Brain,” Verywell Mind, 15 November 2021
2 Elizabeth T.C. Lippard, Ph.D., and Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., “The Devastating Clinical Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect: Increased Disease Vulnerability and Poor Treatment Response in Mood Disorders”, The American Journal of Psychiatry, 20 September 2019