Our meeting on March 23rd looked at several papers on self harm, with particular emphasis on self harm in adolescents. We learned something about the on line presence of websites and chat rooms dedicated to self harm and frequented by young people. The positive side being a source of support for young people in unbearable pain. The negative being a peer group which might encourage self harm and could even promote it.
Chapter 3 of Antonia Murphy’s book ‘Out of This World’ discussed the relationship between self harm and suicide. She sees a difference in intentionality though they are both acts of self aggression. People harming themselves generally want to feel more alive whilst those who are suicidal wish to die. We quickly saw a blurred area where the two acts overlap where long term self harm can lead to ‘acquired capability’ of suicide. Both behaviours come, of course, from psychic pain and we discussed the importance of investigating the pain and its origins by empathic atunement in therapy. Barent Walsh’s paper on Clinical Assessment of Self Injury concentrates on extracting the details of the client’s harmful behaviour in what he calls ‘respectful curiosity’ , a term which did not sit well with all of us as it implies therapist distance rather than involvement. We were however agreed that seeking detail might make the behaviour feel more real for the client and conveys a willingness to bear this reality collaboratively. The client’s prior experience of other people is likely to have been avoidant or squeamish.
We came up with a very interesting new idea (for most of us) that morbid jealousy is itself a form of self harm stemming from early inadequate attachment – the pain of feeling unloved at the same time as feeling unworthy to be loved and re creating this distress in the self inflicted pain of jealousy.