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Emotional Self-Harm: People Pleasing Can Ruin Your Happiness

Self-harm is not just a physical act.

I am generally a happy, motivated, hard-working, compassionate and adventurous individual however in the past year I have noticed some unhealthy emotional patterns. I have continually allowed myself to be a doormat by letting people in my life walk all over me to the point it has affected my happiness. I have allowed friends to skip out on plans without telling me, invite themselves to stay with me for a weekend, leave me hanging, take advantage of my resources, use me solely for a vacation, expect me to plan their vacation, demand that I carry their firewood (literally this happened), embarrass me in front of others, verbally demand things from me, and the list goes on.

I was officially a carpet where I allowed others to walk all over me, and slam and open the door on me whenever they felt like it. I knew these behaviors were uncalled for but I also wanted to be liked. I wanted to help others and do good, but at what expense? When these hurtful actions occurred, I took some time to collect my thoughts and reflect. I came to a point where I could no longer handle this behavior so I addressed my feelings to these individuals. My feelings were either dismissed, ignored or I was told that I was to blame. I made a point to distance myself from these so-called friends in my life and from that day forward, I told myself I was no longer going to be a doormat for others to wipe their dirty boots on. I have always been a strong individual with a backbone but somehow it seemed that my backbone was becoming more “flexible” in the past year or so.

Taking a stance

Over the past few months, I have made a firm decision to stand up for myself, to express to others how I feel, and to be a lot more cautious of whom I allow in my life. I recently was doing some research on emotional self-harm and I came across an article that mentioned self-sabotage and “people-pleasing” as a sign of emotional self-harm. This hit me right where I needed it to because I knew my happiness was becoming compromised due to my own decision to allow people to walk all over me. I was in a cycle of emotional self-harm.

Defining self-harm: physical vs. emotional

When many individuals think of self-harm they often think of physical self-harm, formally known as non-suicidal self-injury disorder in which individuals engage in cutting, burning, extreme picking of the skin or pulling of hair as an unhealthy way to release emotions related to anger, sadness, neglect, pain, and frustration. However, self-harm comes in all forms, and it is just as possible to cause ourselves mental and emotional self-harm that can be just as damaging to us as physical self-harm in the long run. Without treatment or awareness, emotional self-harm can potentially result in depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideations, anxiety, physical self-harm, substance abuse disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We can be our own worst enemy

As humans, we are often overly critical of ourselves. We tell ourselves we are not good enough, compare ourselves to others, and sometimes allow the voice inside our head to shame us or fill us with endless doubt. Whether we critique our bodies, our appearance or our capabilities, this type of emotional self-harm can be devastating and often initiates from early childhood and adolescence. The people around us growing up have a huge influence on our inner dialogue. Strict parents, bullies at school, adults who disempowered us, and any type of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse can cause us to grow up with a harsh view of ourselves, often creating an enemy within us. Subtle forms of criticism at a young age can also be damaging. Perhaps there was a teacher who ridiculed you or called you out in class or a coach who always critiqued you without giving praise.

Our inner critic is a collection of negative voices from our past and when these voices become so big that it damages our opinions of ourselves, it can cause us deep emotional self-harm, leading to low self-esteem, self-sabotage, underachievement and sometimes even depression.

Destructive patterns and emotional self-harm

We often can cause self-harm by the individuals we choose to surround ourselves with. Maybe we constantly jump from one abusive relationship to the next, choose friends who are unkind and negative or continue to be in situations where we feel sabotaged and hurt. These patterns are often ingrained and can be extremely difficult to break.

These patterns are often traced back to early childhood in relation to how our emotional needs were met, or not met. These destructive patterns are linked to attachment issues, emotional instability, neglect, and avoidance. We must not only recognize these harmful patterns but we must learn the coping tools to avoid and break them. These coping skills are best learned in therapy from a mental health professional.

Signs and symptoms of emotional self-harm

  • Having an overly emotional reaction to a not so big problem
  • Having a pattern of abusive relationships or harmful friendships
  • Unable to maintain friendships or relationships
  • Thoughts of self-doubt
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Body image issues
  • Social withdrawal out of fear of not fitting in
  • Thoughts about hurting yourself
  • Ruminating on past abusive relationships or friendships
  • Running away from emotions and rejecting reality
  • Being ashamed of who you are
  • Constantly feeling bad for yourself
  • Internalizing your conflicted emotions, build walls and refuse to seek help from others
  • Belittling your own progress and accomplishments
  • Not prioritize taking care of yourself
  • Practicing bad habits
  • Self-sacrificial behavior, or a people pleaser at the expense of your own happiness
  • Holding a grudge

How to overcome emotional self-harm

Most individuals who practice emotional self-harm will benefit greatly from psychotherapy. It is incredibly important to learn to recognize these harmful patterns, the underlying reasons why these behaviors and thoughts exist and to learn and practice coping mechanisms as a healthy way to overcome these self-destructive patterns.

  • Give yourself credit for your achievements and how far you have come.
  • Remind yourself of one thing you are proud of each day.
  • Take time to relax and self-reflect on your prior achievements.
  • Vulnerability is the ultimate driving force of happiness and by being more open with yourself and others, you can allow others to reach out to you and support you.
  • Understand that it is okay to feel badly when things do not work out. Pain is inevitable but suffering is avoidable meaning that if you sulk in self-pity it does not change the outcome or help you get better.
  • Surround yourself with supportive, motivated and happy people who exercise healthy habits. It is important to note that you become the company that you keep.
  • It is okay to help others, but do not allow your own happiness to be compromised when doing this.
  • It is okay to be angry with individuals if they have treated you poorly but by holding grudges you are ignoring your ability to regulate your emotions in a healthy fashion. If someone hurts you, it important to try to talk about and express your opinions and keep in mind that forgiveness is not about the other person but it is about allowing yourself to let go of any negative feelings you have towards that individual.
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