Self harm and complex PTSD

Feb 13, 2019

There are a few myths about self-harm and this fear that if we talk about self-harm that this might be too triggering for people. No one should struggle with this in secrecy or alone. So, let’s talk about this. 

What this blog covers:

  • what self-harm is not
  • 3 real reasons why people self-harm and
  • a few tips on how we could deal with this in a healthier way


Myth # 1: self-harm is a failed suicide attempt

Myth # 2: we are self-harming because we are so needy that we would do just about anything to draw attention to us.

These are myths!! (more like insults really) There are thousands of people who self-harm in secrecy without intention to kill themselves, even going out of their way to hide their scars. 

Real reasons why people self-harm


There weren’t any soothing caring role models in your live at critical time points - called emotional neglect. Hence we ended up with complex PTSD – a brain that lacks the soothing networks.

When your childhood was too traumatising – filled with abuse or neglect, then you missed the developmental milestone in early childhood, where you learn to regulate your emotions.

The inability to regulate emotions is just one symptom of cPTSD.

The problem is that all this trauma brings up so much pain and emotions deep within us at levels difficult to describe in words.

So, you got this intense pain in the absence of physical reasons. Like no broken bones, headache, flu, rash… there’s nothing.

Sometimes people use self-harm as a coping mechanism, i.e. turning emotional pain into physical pain. It’s not a healthy or very effective coping mechanism long term. It relieves some of the pain momentarily. But soon it will return.

Give yourself some credit for coming up with a solution to solve the pain. It was the best you could come up with in the given situation.

Now, please know it’s ok to reach out for professional help and find some new coping strategies 😊

Therapists or support groups can help us come up with different techniques to deal with overwhelming pain and emotions.

Here’s an example of how my therapist helped me find ways to regulate my emotions in a safer way:

In our sessions we made little cards, on which we wrote different options like rub ice cubes on your feet, walk bare feet, … then I taped those cards on the objects I’d use to self-harm.

Because when we are actually in crisis, we can't come up with ideas for safer options. It’s not possible because our prefrontal cortex is offline. When our limbic system is overactive, which it is when we are in crisis, we don’t have access to our prefrontal cortex. The thinking, planning, analysing… part of our brain is cut off. (Here's a watch the free training webinar on brain function with complex PTSD now)

Having cues throughout the house or taped on objects as reminder, can act as a substitute for the momentary absence of our prefrontal cortex 😊

To be honest, I couldn’t have come up with safer options myself. I needed my therapist for this. It’s not just ok to reach out for help, it’s a sign of courage 😊


We often continue to treat ourselves the way abusive people have treated us in the past. We feel useless, bad, evil, disgusting and horrible to the point that we think we do NOT deserve to be treated with kindness. Hence you listen to your toxic inner critic and continue to treat yourself in abusive ways.

(BTW, the toxic inner critic is your abusers’ voices internalised. They are just thoughts and they are not facts about you)

Time to give yourself permission to be kind with yourselves.

We do not have to continue to treat ourselves the way abusive people treated us in the past. We were put onto this planet for a reason, whatever the universe's reason was, we may never truly know.

But we were given this body or container, as I like to call it, and it is my responsibility to look after this container as good as I can.

So, I need to find ways to be kind, soothing and nurturing with myself. I can do this by giving my body the right nutrients, sleep and water combined with some nice words of encouragement towards myself.

(here's a video with some tips for self-nurture and self-care)

Give that child within the love, the nurturing, soothing words etc. that he or she did not get when needed mostly.


This was a big one for me personally - when I was going through periods of numbness for weeks or month...

There was just nothing, no signs of *aliveness*. It’s like you are a robot going through the motions of life.

So self-harm became a way to check in with myself if I am still alive. Again, not a healthy method. But the best I could come up with at the time with what I knew.

Now we can find different ways of checking in or getting rid of that numbness, waking up our feelings and emotions.

(Here's a link to a blog on numbness)

Mostly I feared my own emotions as they became too overwhelming too quickly, as I couldn’t regulate emotions at all. The great news is that our brain has tremendous capacity to change. So, we can build new neuronal pathways, put new strategies in place and preventative measures.

To be honest, it’s hard work. Very hard work that requires so much patience. People have no idea how long it takes to re-wire a brain and strengthen those new neuronal pathways. So please take a looooong moment to feel proud of all the hard work you do, even if it is invisible to others. I am proud of you!

I just want to highlight again that it is ok to get professional help. But I know not everyone has access to the right support. So, let's help each other out by sharing our tips, techniques or strategies that worked 😊 And hopefully you got some ideas from this blog to get you started or spark some hope.

Our complex PTSD symptoms are complex. While some techniques work for a long time others are short lived and need replacing sooner.

Here's a few more techniques I found helpful with managing my urges to self harm:

One of my favourite techniques to wake up emotions was rubbing ice cubes in the palm of my hand or sole of my foot. Effective and cheap as 😊.

I love walking bare feet, especially in the rain. I live in tropical Queensland, so might not be appropriate for your climate.

I made myself a crisis box that contained things that I associated with positive experiences and feelings. (click here to get a cheat sheet on how to make your own crisis box)

Sensory toys are also great (you can google for ideas).

Playing with play dough, clay and sand have also been helpful distractions.

Wearing elastic bands around your wrist you can snap has been somewhat helpful too. Bracelets worked just as the same, especially the silicone ones with messages on them.

Please don’t keep your struggles a secret. Reach out for help. This blog gives you only a few possible ideas to get started. There are techniques and tools available in abundance. Trust that you will find what works best for you.

You got within you what’s necessary to figure this out.I believe in you!

Do you feel disconnected from your body? This is a normal coping mechanism to survive the trauma but puts as at great risk of developing burnout and disease in adulthood. This video series is for you to become more aware of all the different ways your body is talking to you and some practices, tips and exercises.  

In the meantime, as always, I am sending you lots & lots of love and rainbows to brighten up the rough days just a little.

 For more videos hop on over and check out my YouTube Channel 

Here are the recordings from FB lives where I shared tips, practices and tools that helped me on my healing journey