When Pain Seems to Make You Feel Better

When people self-harm they  often see it as a  way of coping with problems. It may help you express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release emotional pain. Afterwards, you may  feel better  for a little while.  However  the painful feelings  usually return, and you  may feel the urge to hurt yourself again. If you want to stop but don’t know how, remember this: you deserve to feel better, and you can get there without hurting yourself.

Understanding cutting and self-harm

Self-harm is often a way  of expressing and dealing with deep  emotional pain. As strange as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself can make you feel better. Injuring yourself may be  the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.

The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like putting on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury.

If you’re like most people who self-injure, you probably try to keep what you’re doing secret. Maybe you feel ashamed or maybe you just think that no one would understand.  Ultimately, the secrecy and guilt affects your relationships with your friends and family members and the way you feel about yourself. It can make you feel even more lonely, worthless, and trapped.

Myths and facts about cutting and self-harm


Myth: People who cut and self-injure are trying to get attention.
Fact: The truth is that people who self-harm generally harm themselves in secret. They aren’t trying to manipulate others or draw attention to themselves.  Actually shame and fear can make it very difficult to come forward and ask for help.

Myth: People who self-injure are crazy and/or dangerous.
Fact: It is true that many people who self-harm suffer from anxiety, depression, or a previous trauma—just like millions of others in the general population, but that doesn’t make them “crazy or dangerous”. Self-injury is how they cope. Sticking a label like “crazy” or “dangerous” on a person is not  accurate or helpful.

Myth: People who self-injure want to die.
Fact: People who self-injure usually do not want to die. When they self-harm, they are not trying to commit suicide —they are trying to cope with their problems and pain.   They often feel that  self-injury may be a way of helping themselves go on living. However, in the long-term, people who self-injure have a much higher risk of suicide, which is why it’s important to seek help.


Signs and symptoms of cutting and self-harm

Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include:

  • cutting or severely scratching your skin
  • burning or scalding yourself
  • hitting yourself or banging your head
  • punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects
  • sticking objects into your skin
  • intentionally preventing wounds from healing
  • swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects

Self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge drinking, taking too many drugs, and having unsafe sex.

How does cutting and self-harm help?

It’s important to acknowledge that self-harm helps you—otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Some of the ways cutting and self-harming can help include:

  • Expressing feelings you can’t put into words
  • Releasing the pain and tension you feel inside
  • Helping you feel in control
  • Distracting you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
  • Relieving guilt and punishing yourself
  • Making you feel alive, or simply feel something,instead of feeling numb

Once you better understand why you self-harm, you can learn ways to stop self-harming, and find resources that can support you through this struggle.

If self-harm helps, why stop?

Although self-harm and cutting can give you temporary relief,  in the long term, it causes far more problems than it solves.

  • The relief is short lived, and is quickly followed by other feelings like shame and guilt.
  • Keeping the secret of self-harm from friends and family members is difficult and lonely.
  • You can hurt yourself badly, even if you don’t mean to. It’s easy to misjudge the depth of a cut or end up with an infected wound.
  • If you don’t learn other ways to deal with emotional pain, it puts you at risk for other  problems,  including major depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
  • Self-harm can become addictive. It may start off as an impulse or something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming is controlling you. It often turns into a compulsive behavior that seems impossible to stop.

Self-harm and cutting don’t help you with the issues that made you want to hurt yourself in the first place. There are  other ways that the underlying issues that are driving the self harm can be managed.

Help for cutting and self-harm

 Confide in someone

If you’re ready to get help for cutting or self-harm, the first step is to confide in another person. It can be scary to talk about the very thing you have worked so hard to hide, but it can also be a huge relief to finally let go of your secret and share what you’re going through.


Tips for talking about cutting and self-harm

  • Focus on your feelings. Instead of sharing detailed accounts of your self-harm behavior focus on the feelings or situations that lead to it. This can help the person you’re confiding in better understand where you’re coming from. It also helps to let the person know why you’re telling them.
  • Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you’re too nervous to talk in person, consider starting off the conversation with an email or letter Don’t feel pressured into sharing things you’re not ready to talk about. You don’t have to show the person your injuries or answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
  • Give the person time to process what you tell them. As difficult as it is for you to open up, it may also be difficult for the person you tell—especially if it’s a close friend or family member. Sometimes, you may not like the way the person reacts. Try to remember that reactions such as shock, anger, and fear come out of concern for you.

Talking about self-harm can bring up a lot of emotions. Don’t be discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It’s uncomfortable to confront and change long-standing habits. But once you get past these initial challenges, you’ll start to feel better.

Figure out why you cut

Understanding why you cut or self-harm is a vital first step toward your recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves, you can learn other ways to get those needs met—which in turn can reduce your desire to hurt yourself.

Identify your self-harm triggers

Remember, self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. Once you learn to recognize the feelings that trigger your need to self-injure, you can start developing healthier alternatives.

Get in touch with your feelings

If you’re having a hard time pinpointing the feelings that trigger your urge to cut, you may need to work on your emotional awareness.  Emotional awareness means the ability to identify and express what you are feeling from moment to moment and to understand the connection between your feelings and your actions. Feelings are important pieces of information that our bodies give to us, but they do not have to result in actions like cutting or other self-harming.

The idea of paying attention to your feelings—rather than numbing them or releasing them through self-harm—may sound frightening to you. You may be afraid that you’ll get overwhelmed or be stuck with the pain, however emotions quickly come and go if you let them. If you don’t try to fight, judge, or beat yourself up over the feeling, you’ll find that it soon fades, replaced by another emotion. It’s only when you obsess over the feeling that it persists.

Find new coping techniques

Self-harm is your way of dealing with feelings and difficult situations. So if you’re going to stop, you need to have alternative ways of coping in place so you can respond differently when you start to feel like cutting or hurting yourself.

If you cut to express pain and intense emotions

  • Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
  • Express your feelings in a journal
  • Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
  • Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling

If you cut to calm and soothe yourself

  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet
  • Listen to calming music

If you cut because you feel disconnected and numb

  • Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
  • Take a cold shower
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers or  peppermint

If you cut to release tension or vent anger

  • Exercise —run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
  • Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
  • Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
  • Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)

Substitutes for the cutting sensation

  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
  • Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
  • Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs, and snap them instead of cutting or hitting


Professional treatment for cutting and self-harm

You will probably also need the help and support of a trained professional as you work to overcome the self-harm habit.   A therapist can help you develop new coping techniques and strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.

Self harm is  an outward expression of inner pain—pain that often has its roots in early life. There is often a connection between self-harm and childhood trauma.

Self-harm may be your way of coping with feelings related to past abuse, flashbacks, negative feelings about your body, or other traumatic memories. This may be the case even if you’re not consciously aware of the connection.

If you or someone you know is self harming, please reach out to someone for help.

Help for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse


Statistics state that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have been the victims of sexual abuse as a child or adolescent.  The rate is most likely higher since many people do not report or tell others that they have been sexually abused.  It’s very important for survivors to get help in order to heal from the abuse which they suffered in their past.

Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Many survivors do not  understand the connection between their childhood trauma  and their adult experience.  Generally, the abuse has either been accepted by the survivor as “normal” or is viewed as something that is better left in the past.  In some cases, the abuse may not be remembered.  Therefore,  the significance of symptoms and problems arising from the abuse is not always  recognized.

Many adult survivors may have the following symptoms:

  • Find it difficult to develop or maintain close personal relationships.
  • Have a strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
  • Endure physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
  • Experience feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem overwhelming.
  • Undergo panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or have suicidal thoughts.
  • Find themselves depending on alcohol,  drugs, or may develop eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-esteem.
  • Experience problems like low self-esteem, avoidance of sex, promiscuity, or inability to experience orgasms or erections.
  • Exhibit signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.

Most of these symptoms are due to the disruption of a healthy psychological development.  An abusive childhood situation interferes with the child’s natural movement toward growth.

As a result of having limited opportunities to naturally develop healthy coping skills, survivors sometimes  develop  complex coping mechanisms in their attempts to appear “normal.”  As a child, the survivor may have learned the importance of “pretending that nothing is wrong.”  This coping mechanism allows them to function in society in ways that never allow anyone to guess that they struggle with  pain on the inside.

Some survivors compensate for their feelings of shame or inadequacy by becoming “over-achievers.”  They frequently mask their pain or feelings of fragility so successfully that it becomes all the more important to the survivors that others around them do not discover that they are not really who they appear to be.    Having not been given appropriate levels of love, care, or attention when they were their true selves as children, they might feel that they will not be given love, care, and attention if they allow their true selves to be seen as adults.

Sexual abuse usually takes place in secret and is kept secret.  Denial of sexual abuse is much stronger than denial of physical or emotional abuse.  Because of the silence surrounding most sexual abuse, children are forced to endure the abuse and it’s effects alone.  As adults, survivors often continue to feel alone and isolated.  They fear exposing the shame, rage, and hurt connected to their childhood experiences.  They tend to blame themselves for the abuse.    They usually feel ashamed by the fact that they could not stop the abuse.   Adult survivors sometimes  report childhood blackouts in which large chunks of time are forgotten.

Survivors deal with the sexual abuse in different  ways.  Some become over-responsible, believing that they are accountable for everything and must take care of others, often meeting the needs of others before their own.  On the other hand, they may act out against others in manipulative or abusive ways, especially if that is the only way they have learned to get their needs met.   Many  survivors may have developed self-destructive behaviors (substance abuse, eating disorders, acting out sexually, self-mutilation, etc.) as ways to escape from or as attempts to gain control over the pain that stems from the abuse.  Survivors who did not have the resources or opportunities to work through the trauma they experienced are frequently prone to self-hate, self-destructiveness, and feelings of hopelessness.  With proper treatment, many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  who have come to some sort of resolution with the trauma lead happy, healthy, fulfilled lives.

Consistent, patient, and caring effort is needed by both the survivor and those who are aiding in this healing process.  While it is difficult and often painful to work towards recovery from childhood abuse, healing is possible when survivors have access to a support network that can provide them with nurturance, assistance, and  care.



The Myth of the Strong Black Woman

pexels-photo-908309.jpegBlack  women are often portrayed as  fighters with sharp tongues who are ready to fight and cuss a man out at all times.    Sojourner Truth stated, “plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head us.”  Black women are rarely portrayed as soft and gentle and kind and in need of help.  This myth that we have to always be strong has been detrimental to our physical and emotional well being.  We often neglect our health because we feel we have to take care of everyone else and always be strong.  Black women are disproportionately affected by diabetes and hypertension and depression but the idea that we must always be strong keeps many of us from getting the help we need to take care of ourselves.   We never get rest because we feel we have to be strong.  Our strength  also often goes hand in hand with us being perceived as mean, harsh and unfeminine.  Black women are often not treated  the same way as other women because we are often viewed as unlovable.  Unlike other women we’re not often seen as multifaceted, when was the last time you heard the term “Strong White woman” or “Strong Asian Woman”.

It isn’t Black women’s responsibility to end this stereotype however we need to do more to take care of ourselves.    Take the time to make sure you’re eating well, getting enough sleep, getting to the doctor and also a  therapist if needed.  Don’t put everything off until tomorrow because you have to take care of everyone.  You can’t take care of anyone  if you don’t take care of yourself.  Don’t believe the myth that being a strong Black woman means you don’t deserve to get help and  you need to be a work horse for everyone.


How Can I have Fun without Drugs or Alcohol?

I’ve had many clients say to me , “It’s impossible for me to have fun without being high or drunk or being sober is so boring.”   At first yes it probably is boring to do things without being high, I mean if being high didn’t make you feel good, people wouldn’t do it.   There is  good news there are a number of strategies and resources at your disposal that can help you limit your substance use and get involved in substance-free activities where you can have a good time.   You don’t have to set out on this challenge alone– it’s okay to reach out to a supportive friend, relative, or a professional, who can help you stay on course.

As you begin to reduce your substance use, take some time to reflect on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Sharpening your awareness of your social, professional, and spiritual interests can go a long way towards finding activities that excite you and people who share your interests outside of substance use. Consider these suggestions to get you started: organizations that work toward a cause in which you strongly believe, athletic groups, political campaigns, reading circles, writing and theatrical clubs When you find what you’re into, you might also invite your current group of friends to join you in some fun without substances. Getting involved in these types of activities may also pave the way to new friendships that don’t revolve around on using substances. Here are more ideas you can enjoy  by yourself or with others.

  •  Work out at the gym, try a new group exercise class, or plan to go running or walking outside.
  •  Visit museums or take a trip to a zoo or aquarium (any of which may offer discounted admission for students or on certain days).
  •  Try being a tourist in your own city and find the hidden treasures  by exploring new neighborhoods.
  •  Try perusing websites like to find other people in your area that share your interests. If you don’t find a group that you’re into, you can have like-minded individuals seeking you out by creating a special-interest group of your own.

It’s also understandable that you may want to still see your friends who still use.  If they were even your friends in the first place. Most of the time, you are useless to your addict friends if you quit..  It is possible to avoid the temptations of  alcohol or other substances.. By engaging in some pre-planning before a night out, you can think ahead about how much you want to consume (if at all) and how to politely decline offers of alcohol or anything else  that might come your way. Start by thinking about how you’d ideally like to handle a situation when someone offers or encourages you to have a drink or take a hit. Some responses could include: “Thanks, but I’m cutting back for a while,” or “No, I have a drug test tomorrow.” It may also help to let others know that you’ve set a personal limit for the night or have stopped using if you find that helps you stick to your plan.  There are also activities you can do that may help you check in with your internal state and strengthen your resolve to limit your substance use. Learning yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and other relaxation techniques have helped many on the same road to coping  with stress resulting from this change in lifestyle, as well as provide motivation for improving mind-body health.

Remember, reducing any degree of psychological or physical dependence on substances takes time, and can be achieved through measured reductions in use.   In addition to filling your time with other activities and interests, it’s a good idea to  consider speaking with a counselor or therapist.  A therapist or counselor can help you define specific goals regarding your use, including how much you’d like to cut back and at what pace, which may make for a transition.

Best of luck on the road to personal change

When You Feel Sad After Having Your Baby


The birth of a baby  can trigger many  emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety and sometimes  depression.

Many new moms experience the “postpartum baby blues” after childbirth, which  includes mood swings, crying, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.   Baby blues usually begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and will usually  last for up to two weeks.  However  some new moms experience a  long-lasting form of depression called postpartum depression.  If you experience postpartum depression,  treatment can help you manage your symptoms and enjoy your baby.



According to the Mayo Clinic, Postpartum depression symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

If not  treated, postpartum depression may last for many months or sometimes over a year.   Many new mothers  feel reluctant or embarrassed to admit to feeling depressed after the birth of their baby.  Society tells us that we are only supposed to feel joyful and not sad after giving birth.     However if you experience any symptoms of postpartum postpartum depression, it is important to reach out for help and support from your doctor or therapist.

If you have suicidal thoughts

If at any time  you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby and call 911 or your local emergency assistance number to get help.

Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.

In my psychotherapy practice, I work with many women who are experiencing post partum depression.  In addition to individual therapy I also have a group for new mothers to meet and discuss what they’re experiencing after the birth of their baby.  Remember if you’re experiencing the baby blues or postpartum depression, you’re not alone and there is help available.


Black Women and Therapy- Why Race Matters

pexels-photo-818819.jpeg“What would a White doctor know about my problems?” “They’ll call me crazy and lock me up!” “The pastor has been helping me,” and “Where would I even find a good Black counselor?”   Although the Black community shares the same concerns and mental health issues as others  and with  even greater stressors due to discrimination and economic inequities,   many shy away from psychotherapy.    This is due to many factors such as feeling unable to find a therapist they feel can truly help them,  being distrustful of White people, the belief that seeking help makes you weak and also the idea that therapy is for “crazy” people.


Cultural Mistrust

African Americans have a greater distrust of the medical establishment in general, and many feel that  medical institutions hold racist attitudes. This goes  back to historical abuses of slaves by White doctors for medical experimentation; Blacks could neither consent or refuse to participate because of their low social status and were often victimized, even to the point of being used as examples of surgical techniques for medical students.

Cultural mistrust is partially responsible for  the under use of  mental health  services, leaving many without needed care. Black people may fear mistreatment, being hospitalized involuntarily, or being used as research “guinea pigs.” Black people who regularly encounter prejudice often  develop “healthy paranoia” — a cultural response style based on experiences of racism and oppression in White society.  Worries  about being judged or wrongly  diagnosed may lead many African Americans to exercise caution or avoidance of mental health care. This reaction has lead some clinicians to over diagnose paranoia in  Black clients, which then leads to greater mistrust on the part of the client.

Therapist Factors

White therapists often don’t understand why Black clients  are cautious.  Unfortunately ethnic and racial stereotypes often affect therapeutic relationship.  The therapist’s reaction to the client  can be complicated by unacknowledged prejudice, stereotypes, and feelings of guilt.  An honest discussion of ethnic and racial factors in the therapeutic relationship can increase trust and mutual understanding.  However, many therapists are unsure how to approach racial differences, and may prefer a “colorblind” approach.

Colorblindness Is Not the Answer

A colorblind approach only relieves the therapist of his or her obligation to address racial differences and difficulties.  Being  colorblind allows the denial of uncomfortable racial and cultural differences.    Being colorblind  ignores the experience of being stigmatized by society and represents a failure on the part of the therapist.


The Black Client and White Therapist

In my work as a therapist working primarily with Black clients, I have had many clients tell me about difficulties they’ve had with White therapists.  Many clients felt there were subjects they couldn’t discuss with their therapist because they felt the therapist couldn’t possibly understand due to cultural and racial differences.  I have also had clients say that they have discussed racism they’ve experienced and felt that their therapist felt that they were making a “big deal” out of something.  These situations led to clients being distrustful of their therapists.



Choosing a Therapist

It’s important when choosing a therapist to choose someone who you feel understands you and will be empathetic and non judgmental towards you.  Sometimes it takes going to different therapists to find the right one for you.  Finding a culturally competent therapist can be especially difficult but not impossible.  Remember  no matter what race or ethnic background your therapist is, the most important thing is that you feel heard, understood and safe to express yourself in therapy.


Loving Yourself as a Black Woman

pexels-photo-897002.jpegValentine’s Day is around the corner and if you’re not in a relationship sometimes seeing all those people in love can be annoying.  However it’s  important to  remind yourself that you are loved and wanted on a daily basis.  Remember whether you’ve been single for a while or recently ended a relationship, it’s important not to focus on the fact that you don’t have a significant other. Instead, focus on the fact that you don’t need a   significant other in order to feel loved.


We often have the  idea of “loving” as the image of someone else loving us. Someone else doing things for us, kissing us or taking us places. We often try to find someone to make us feel good.  However  looking outside of ourselves  for love is a big obstacle to self-love. When you rely on other people to make  you feel worthy, there is no place where you can access that feeling of importance from within yourself.



Many women like to fill their nights with friends and parties when they’re single, for various reasons. Some people just really like to go out and socialize, but others are more interested in filling the void so that they don’t have to be alone. There’s the assumption that if you’re home alone on Saturday night, you’re lonely and would rather be on a date. I know it can feel lonely to not to have weekend plans, but part of being in love with yourself is enjoying your own company.   Let go of the idea that you need to “be social” every weekend.  Set aside some time to be alone and rediscover all the things that make you fabulous.



Don’t wait until you find someone  who will show up at your door with long-stemmed roses.  The presence of living, breathing plants can be a constant reminder that even though you don’t have a partner, you still have a life.


Cooking for one can be challenging.  Even though you’re only cooking for yourself, try to cook a really good meal once or twice per week.   Just because you’re single doesn’t mean you have to order out all the time. Buy some groceries and prepare meals for yourself on a regular basis. It’s much healthier and easier on your wallet.


Don’t miss out on a great meal or  a good movie just because you don’t have a date to take you out. When you commit to taking yourself out on dates periodically, it reminds you that you don’t need a plus one to have fun.


Sign up for a class like poetry writing, pastry baking, pottery or whatever interests you.  This can be fun and will help you to create something meaningful to you.

Remember as RuPaul says “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else”.  Can I get an Amen!!!