Does your spouse engage in self-harming behaviors such as cutting, burning or stabbing? Are you unsure on how to deal with your spouse’s self harming behaviors? To help understand what stems from your spouse’s self harming behaviors and what you can do to cope with your spouse’s self harming behaviors, I have interviewed psychotherapist Pam Snyder, LCSW, ACT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a psychotherapist in private practice serving the metro Denver area. I am a Certified Cognitive Therapist and trained in family therapy. I have been working with individuals who self-injure for over 15 years. I first worked with teens that self-injured while employed at a residential treatment facility. The teens were engaging in severe self-injury often requiring medical treatment, surgery and intensive mental health treatment. After leaving the residential program, I found individuals who self-injured to often be misunderstood. This furthered my interest in self-injury and resulted in my specializing in the treatment of self-injury. I also work with many individuals who are struggling with anxiety and trauma issues.”
What stems from a spouse’s self harming behavior?
“There are many reasons why someone engages in self harming. While many individuals who self harm have a history of trauma or abuse, not everyone does. Self-harming is a coping skill used by people who have a difficult time managing their emotions. Sometimes when someone is overwhelmed with their emotions they find it unbearable. Self-harming is a way to decrease the intensity of their emotions. After self-harming, they feel a sense of relief and calm. Another reason individuals self-harm is when they feel disconnected from their body. Hurting themselves helps them reconnect with their feelings and body sensations. While there is no one cause that leads someone to self-harm, it is the underlying inability to manage emotions, which is common among self-injurers.”
What types of impact can a spouse’s self-harming behavior have on the marriage?
“When someone becomes aware that their spouse or partner is intentionally hurting themselves, it can be scary and overwhelming. This is a crucial time for the couple. How you react to finding out that someone is hurting themselves is an important factor in predicting how the self-harmer will impact the relationship. When someone reacts with anger and fear, this can lead to their partner feeling isolated and overwhelmed, which can lead to more self-harming. This often has a negative impact on the relationship and can lead to disconnection within the relationship. When someone reacts with concern and support, this provides the opportunity for the couple to become closer and to begin to work through the issue. Having a calm demeanor without a strong reaction can create a positive environment to begin to explore and discuss the self-injury. The impact of self-harming on relationships varies. While very scary and difficult to understand, it is something that can bring a couple closer or something that can create distance between a couple.”
How can someone cope with their spouse’s self harming behaviors?
“It is very important to get support when you find out that someone is self-harming. Identifying and verbalizing your fears and emotions to a therapist can provide some relief. It is important to learn about self-harming behavior and begin to understand how self-harming serves a purpose. Learning how to respond when someone self-harms and how to manage your own emotions can have a positive effect on the relationship and a positive effect on your partner stopping the self-injury. A good place to start gathering information about self-injury is by reading the website www.selfinjury.com.”
What type of professional help is available for a spouse who is engaged in self-harming behaviors?
“Individual therapy is usually recommended for those who self-harm. Therapy provides a safe environment to explore the triggers to self-harm and to learn how to manage one’s emotions. A therapist can also provide educational information and information on how to respond to self-harm for partners and family members. I have found Cognitive Therapy (CBT) to be the most effective treatment method. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can also be helpful in providing specific skills to manage emotions. It is important to work with a therapist who has specific training in self-harming behaviors in addition to training in CBT or DBT. When looking for professional help, it can be helpful to ask the therapist questions about their experience, how they respond to self-harm and their background and training.”
Thank you Pam for doing the interview on how someone can cope with their spouse’s self harming behaviors. For more information on Pam Snyder or her work you can check out her website on www.pamsnyderlcsw.com.
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