Healing Self-Inflicted Violence: It helps to be RICH

When I started The Cutting Edge newsletter in 1990 it was to stay in touch with other people, those I had met when I first began creating spaces for people to talk about living with Self-Inflicted Violence (SIV).  I had instinctively known that finding others who lived with self-injury would bring me hope and understanding, qualities that were rarely given by those who didn’t struggle in the same way.  Eighteen years later we created the web site, then this blog, and I kept writing about the power of relationship to heal.  Many of the posts to this blog have emphasized this, even recent writings about the power of relationships with nonhuman animals.  Yet I recently realized that I haven’t written about one crucial relationship, the one we have with our very “self.”  That is what I want to begin to explore in this post.  I’ll be interested to learn what you think about this…

One of the many joys of working for the Sidran Institute is a commitment that we share to “practice what we teach.”  The basic beliefs of our work come from Risking Connection, the manuals and training that address how trauma impacts people and how to promote healing.  While the information and experiences provided in these trainings and manuals is extensive, we do have a “shortcut” way of getting to the point of what it is all about.  We use the acronym “RICH relationships” to simply remind ourselves of what the ground of healing looks and feels like.  “R” stands for respect, “I” for information, “C” for connection, and “H” for hope.  These principles are the base of healing relationships.  My work has, for several decades, been focused on creating space that promotes connection and hope, provides information to those who live with SIV and those who care about them, based on mutual respect.  So I’ve written often and repeatedly about how to do this in the context of our relationships with one another.

Yet I missed something!  I forgot to apply these principles to the relationship I have with my self.  It has taken me some time to question myself about my attitudes about who I am, what I do/don’t do, what I believe about myself….  While I often think about creating hope for others and for our relationships with each other, I rarely have thought about my own hopes, and where I draw personal hope from.  The same is true for respect.  Do I respect myself?  As much as I do my friends?  How do I know what it is to feel respect for myself?  How do I see my journey with SIV through the lens of respect?  If I was my own best friend would I be treating myself any differently?

Am I connected with myself?  I know when I feel connected to another person, do I know when I feel the same with the person I am?  I often catch myself paying much more attention to the feelings and conversations of others and not notice my own.  Not all that “rich” of a relationship, is that?

So that’s my beginning of this conversation and exploration.  How do you feel about yourself?  Your life with SIV?  Do you respect yourself?  Have hope for yourself?  Feel connected to your “self”?  What do you believe about yourself?  An inquiring mind wants to know….

5 Responses to “Healing Self-Inflicted Violence: It helps to be RICH”

  1. Mike Skinner Says:

    Hello Ruta,

    hmnnn…your article really hits home - I too have long been quite active in helping others, and that’s okay, but I have neglected myself for many reasons. I have much to think about now - thank you.

    I originally came onto your site to double-check the content and make sure the url link is working, etc. I want to share your website info in the next Surviving Spirit newsletter - what you have to say and share will help so many. You can learn more about us at http://www.survivingspirit.com - Healing the Heart Through the Creative Arts.

    Take care, Mike mikeskinner@comcast.net

  2. Erin Wood Says:

    Notice I left the second part of my last name out…I notice I do that a lot. I looked at your questions at the bottom and tried to answer them as best I could. A lot of the time, I feel ashamed. I see my friends staring at my scars when I pull my sleeves up because it’s so hot. Then they look at my face with so much pity it angers me. I definitely don’t respect myself. I think that’s part of my problem. I believe I’m bringing my flaws to the surface.
    Lately, I haven’t had much hope (except when I’m with the horses). Sometimes, the dark cloud hovers for hours, even days; it never gives me a break. And then I begin fighting with those closest to me. It’s easy to let my demons play with the. They know me so well so I’m not afraid. But then I become angry at myself for allowing that to happen.
    Mostly, I feel distanced from everything: myself, my friends, even my family. It’s easier to distance myself than to accept how much of a problem this has become.
    I notice I run a lot. I may not leave everyone physically, but I do emotionally. I think part of me wants to fight with my friends so much because it’ll be easier for me to handle when they leave. But they wouldn’t have to leave if I just stopped fighting with them. Kind of a vicious cycle huh?

  3. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    For a long time I didn’t realize that the “dark cloud” that I lived in wasn’t all there was, that there was an incomprehensibly different world out just past the edges of the cloud. The cloud was the pain I hadn’t recognized from my life: the fears, shame, worries, rage, deep sorrow and lostness. Sometimes I think I tried to cut my way out of the cloud as I was using SIV as a way to subdue those tough emotions and thoughts about myself and the world. I know we all struggle with the pain and who we are in relationships and the wanting not to feel the brutal stuff. Having people who understand this helps me see through the cloud and find the courage to just be with the difficult truths and emotions and recognize the mistruths too. Having horses helps me forget the cloud even exists. I have found for me that making space for healing from the hard stuff, with SIV or not, is important, but so is having something (for me it’s horses, sport and art) I am so passionate about that the angst goes away is what brings the larger world closer. It ain’t always cloudy in the big sky!

  4. Plaka Says:

    Hope can be counterproductive. When you hope, you are thinking of the future. But you must live ever in the present. Your life is happening right now. if you direct your attention to the future, you are missing your life, you are missing now, you are missing being alive.

    The essence is directing your attention. “…the fears, shame, worries, rage, deep sorrow and lostness” are all things that exist in every moment. They are there all the time. But so is the light. So is joy. In any moment your attention may be directed at the darkness or at the light. When you live under (or in) a cloud, your attention is persistently directed at the darkness. It seems pretty natural to try to distract oneself from it. But all distractions, from violence to the body and the self to fantasies of the future deny the greatest gift you could ever be given: your life.

    If you feel the darkness, in any moment two things happen. First, you feel. This is the path of healing. You must feel it. Second, it passes. If you observe feelings closely, they are constantly changing. First there is one, then it passes and another takes it’s place.

    It should be said that this is terrifically hard work. Some brief training is required that is not difficult, but then there is an enormous daily effort to maintain a practice of being fully alive in each moment.

    You must not only abandon SIV but also THAT SIV. To simplify this one, or look at a simple case; ruminating on the shame of SIV is itself a violent act towards the self. It hurts the self. if you experience shame as it arises and do not become attached to it, that is, let it pass naturally and become replaced by the next feeling, then you are not violent towards yourself.



  5. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    Plaka, your words are so expressive of what my intentions are in the moments that I remember to even “be.” I agree fully that this gift of life is celebrated present moment by present moment, and that allowing feelings to flow freely is profound.

    There are moments that I can remember all this, even fewer that I live that way. In the meantime I believe there is purpose in evolving to “less harmful” violences towards self and others. And while hope might be about future, I think of it also as an attitude in the present, based on having survived the past (regardless that I’m trying to stay in the present!), and can look towards a future with greater strength as a whole lot of the pain has passed through. I have no idea if that makes sense to anyone! What a wonderful conversation…. thank you.

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