Self-Harming: Understanding Your Body’s Dilemma

Your physical body has two main priorities: feeling good, and being safe.  It learns through experience how to recognize situations that could potentially harm it, and it learns through experience what kinds of things it likes.  Maybe your body likes warm baths and soft beds and gentle massages.  If your body has not been through any extreme stresses in life, it would like these things.  But some bodies do not like the idea of someone else’s hands rubbing them for any reason.  Some bodies tense up and refuse to get close to any large source of water.  Some bodies feel panicked at the idea of lying down in any location.  What causes some bodies to act so upset by something that they should find enjoyable?

While your body has definite opinions about what it does and doesn’t like, it also feels outranked by your subconscious and your soul.  These two alpha elements of your being are constantly pressuring your body to go along with their own agendas.  And like an obedient child who stops playing a video game when his mother tells him to go do the dishes, your body feels that it must obey when your subconscious and soul give it firm commands. 

What gives a mother such clout over her son that he’ll be willing to set aside his own fun agenda to do something unpleasant for her?   A key issue here is that the child feels dependent on the mother to care for him.  Sure, he can do many things by himself.  But he can’t make the money he needs to buy groceries.  He doesn’t know how to cook or budget or pay rent.  It’s the child’s dependency on the mother that makes him feel an urgent need to stay on good terms with her.  In the same way, your body feels very dependent on your subconscious to help it maintain its own well-being. 

Your subconscious has massive memory archives that it uses to store information from all of the experiences you have in life.  Your subconscious is also an excellent analyst.  When the body is having a problem, it relays that information to the subconscious.  Maybe your body’s immune system is under attack.  Sure, your body knows what to do, and it immediately fires up its natural defenses.  But it would certainly appreciate some reinforcements, and this is where your subconscious comes in.  When your body says, “I’m under attack!”, your subconscious immediately rifles through its massive memory archives for past experiences you’ve had with effective cold and flu remedies.   If it can’t find anything promising, it orders your conscious to get on the internet and do some research.  Once some potential remedies are identified, your subconscious orders your conscious to head down to the store and make some purchases.  Your body runs its eyes over the instructions on the medicine box, and that visual data is passed to the subconscious.  Your subconscious analyzes it and instructs your conscious on how much to take.  Maybe you follow the instructions exactly, maybe you don’t.  But it’s thanks to your subconscious stepping in that the body gets extra help in dealing with its problem. 

Your subconscious is a protective guardian over your body and your body feels very dependent on your subconscious for its survival.  So when your subconscious starts acting upset or strange, your body becomes very anxious.  In cases of psychological trauma, your subconscious becomes extremely distressed and focused on trying to resolve problems that your body doesn’t really care about.  The question “Why did my parents get a divorce?” just doesn’t matter to your body.  Your body just wants to be safe and feel good, and those things can still happen to a reasonable degree in a one parent home.  But to your subconscious, your father moving out of the house is a major crisis.  Your subconscious is focused on the big picture, not just the present moment.  While your body wants to just enjoy the plate of food that is in front of it, your subconscious is fretting about where the next meal will come from.  How long will mom be able to pay the bills without dad’s income?  Will you have to move?  If so, does that mean you’ll have to change schools?  Changing schools would create a whole bunch of social problems, and your subconscious cares a lot about your social status, because it wants to keep you safe by ensuring you are socially accepted enough to not be a target of bullying.  Your subconscious sees all kinds of potential problems that could develop now that there’s been a divorce, and as it runs one anxious analysis after another, your body starts feeling quite upset.  Your body is upset because your subconscious is upset, and if your subconscious is upset, how will it be able to keep supporting your body? Once your subconscious is in an obvious crisis, your body wants to do anything it can to help your subconscious calm down.  Your body feels so dependent on your subconscious that it will do anything the subconscious wants just to help the subconscious get back online. 

Ingesting Harmful Substances

From the perspective of your body, ingesting toxic chemicals that will damage important filter organs like livers and kidneys or weaken the walls of your intestines or rev your adrenal glands into exhaustion is a rather frightening idea. After all, your body wants to be safe and feel good, and neither of these goals will be attainable if it trashes its own system. But then again, it’s extremely upsetting to your body to be in the constant company of an uptight and stressed out subconscious.

A severely traumatized subconscious is as much fun to be with as a woman in the throes of severe PMS. A traumatized subconscious has sudden, severe mood swings. It acts hypersensitive and will suddenly lash out in anger even when no one was trying to provoke it. Living with a subconscious in this state keeps your body on constant pins, so when your subconscious suddenly says it will feel better if your body will go out and get drunk, your body figures it’s worth it. Remember that your body wants to feel good and be safe, and neither of those things are happening as long as your body is trapped with a tetchy subconscious. Your body isn’t stupid: it knows that guzzling large quantities of alcohol is a form of self-poisoning. But when it sees that the drug does seem to have a calming effect on the subconscious, even though that effect is only temporary, the body decides it’s worth it.

The body’s willingness to harm itself just to get the subconscious to calm down for a few minutes reveals how strongly the body feels its own well-being is linked to the well-being of the subconscious.

Suppose your friend John is very upset because his wife is suffering terribly from some kind of disease. Because John feels so emotionally bonded to his spouse, seeing her in pain is making it impossible for him to feel happy in his own world. In an effort to cheer up your friend, you give him some presents–stuff that you know he really likes. But as he unwraps the gift, he doesn’t even smile. There is no spark of enthusiasm in his eyes. He just says “thanks a lot” in a very flat tone of voice, then sighs heavily and stares off into middle space.

When you try to help your body perk up by giving it medications or exercising it or running it through a series of sensually pleasant experiences at a day spa, and your body responds as flatly as your friend John did, it’s because your body’s problems are a result of it stressing over your subconscious and/or soul. When either of these alpha elements are very upset, your body becomes very anxious, and that anxiety will be expressed in physical symptoms like fatigue or poor digestion.

Every body has its own hierarchy of stress reactions: specific behaviors that it consistently uses to express mild, medium, and severe stress. For example, some bodies are quick to flush in the face, sweat, or tear up when they are just mildly upset, while others only do these things when there is extreme upset. Every body has specific internal organs and systems that it focuses its stress on. The primary stress targets get hit the most often, as they are affected by even minor upsets. The gut is a common primary stress target, and people who primarily stress to their guts have frequent digestion problems that grow noticeably worse when their mental stress increases. Another common primary target is the head, and people who stress to their heads often get plagued with migraines. Ongoing, severe stress will cause more internal systems to be impacted.

Mutual Support

While the body feels dependent on the subconscious for help and guidance, it’s not a one sided relationship. Because of the way the subconscious views body processes, it can experience very real comfort or increased agitation depending on how the body behaves. Here is where we come to the complex notion of symbolic behaviors.

Anorexia is a trauma coping method in which the body is being pressured to intentionally starve itself by refusing to ingest calories. While anorexia is often assumed to be a psychological problem–meaning the subconscious is the element that is commanding the body not to eat, this isn’t always the case. Anorexia can also be caused by soul trauma, in which case the soul is the one coercing the body into starving itself. The body itself is never a fan of starvation, because starvation causes the body’s internal systems to start malfunctioning, which results in an overall feeling of misery. Your body wants to feel good. Misery feels bad.

Anorexia is a good example of the power of symbols. Both your subconscious and your soul form strong associations between concepts and activities. In cases of anorexia, the activity of eating has become strongly associated with one or more very negative ideas. Some anorexics express an intense fear of being overweight, so they say that they want to avoid calories to avoid becoming “fat.” Well, saying “fat” is like saying “rich”–everyone means something different by the term. And regardless of how someone defines “fat”, they would not consider it to be a terrible thing unless they are linking their size to some other, more significant concept.

Claire’s mother is always saying how disgusting obese people are. Claire’s mother also defines a “good daughter” to be one who can squeeze into a size 2 dress. When Claire’s mother talks this way, she is pushing her own symbolic associations onto her daughter. A size 2 dress really doesn’t have anything to do with the worth of another human being. But according to Claire’s mother, what size dress a woman wears absolutely defines her value. At first, Claire doesn’t want to accept this association as true, because Claire’s body cannot fit into a size 2 dress and still be healthy. But here is where Claire’s mother starts leveraging Claire’s core needs against her. All children have a desperate need for both a male and female parent to affirm them. Claire’s mother threatens to withhold any affirmation from Claire until Claire “proves” she is worthy of it by fitting into the ideal dress. Your subconscious is the part of you that feels the desperate need for parental affirmation. So in a frantic effort to get its own core needs met, Claire’s subconscious orders her body to stop eating. The real issue here is not a fear of being fat–it’s far more serious than that for Claire. Claire’s subconscious is afraid of getting cut off from one of its core needs.

Soul Needs

All trauma coping methods and self-harming behaviors are a result of your subconscious, your soul, or both trying to get their core needs met. Let’s now see how an issue like anorexia can be driven by the soul instead of the subconscious.

One night James was driving home drunk and he ran over a little girl in the street. The kid died, and James’ lawyer got him off lightly with a short prison sentence and a year of probation. All of that is now done with, and James is a “free” man. Free in the eyes of the law, that is. But James’ soul feels like its suffocating from self-loathing.

Self-respect is a core need of the soul. Your soul needs to be able to see your reflection in the mirror and feel like that man or woman is someone who it can honestly respect. Your soul is the part of you that cares about morality, and it measures your “respectability” by how moral it feels your behaviors have been. Because James feels he has committed an unpardonable sin by murdering that innocent child, his soul no longer feels like it can justify respecting James. Instead, his soul feels disgusted with what James has done. After all, it wasn’t his soul’s idea to get drunk that night–that was the fault of James’ subconscious and body. James’ soul is now furious with his subconscious and disgusted with his body.

Your soul considers it unbearable to live under the pressure of intense, unrelenting shame. James’ soul is now desperate to find some way to reduce its shame about the past. Due to the influence of religious communities that James has participated in, his soul has formed the belief that sins must be atoned for by suffering. His soul believes that its only hope of getting God’s forgiveness is to try and impress God with how sorry it is. It believes that the only way it can do that is to show God visible evidence that James’ being is in anguish.

Once James’ soul works out this logical solution to its crisis, it starts coercing James’ body to starve itself. James’ body doesn’t want to starve itself, but the soul is so upset that it is causing the entire system to feel oppressed. James’ body can sense that James’ subconscious is extremely upset by the hateful tension that exists between the subconscious and the soul as the soul continually scolds the subconscious for its stupidity in choosing to drink and drive. The body knows that the subconscious won’t calm down until the soul stops bullying it, and the soul is obviously not going to back off until it gets its way. So the body gives in to the soul and begins starving itself in hopes that the soul will finally be satisfied.

As you can see, for James, anorexia has nothing to do with a fear of becoming fat. James’ soul wants James to start looking visibly unwell. It wants James to experience suffering: fatigue, dizziness, hunger cramps, the works. When James comes down with a bad cold in his weakened state, his soul actually rejoices, because it figures, “Maybe now God will notice our suffering and pardon us for what we’ve done.”

Respecting the Alphas

The soul can be as formidable as the subconscious, and when either of these alpha elements becomes extremely upset, the body feels it has no choice but to try to pacify them. The key thing to understand is that core needs must be met for your soul and subconscious. You can’t have either element feeling like one of its core needs is threatened without the entire system plunging into a crisis.

Effective therapy for James will look very different than it does for Claire because these two are having different problems. Simply force feeding these two individuals will only increase their distress because they both fear that normal eating is guaranteed to block them from having a core need met. Claire is only going to recover from her anorexia if her subconscious is shown a better way to deal with her mother’s abusive behavior. James needs theological help, because his crisis is being fueled by some major misunderstandings about how God judges humans. Until the core issues are addressed for these two, being forced to eat will be an extremely distressing experience for both their bodies and their traumatized elements.

Forcing the body to disobey a traumatized element is guaranteed to put more strain on the entire system. This is why it is so important to understand the body’s submissive relationship to the soul and subconscious and take the time to figure out which alpha element the body is trying to please whenever it starts engaging in self-harming behaviors. Because self-harming violates both of the body’s personal priorities of feeling good and being safe, there is always another element involved, pushing the body to do what it doesn’t really want to do. That other element must be dealt with directly if the body is going to feel released from the trap of having to hurt itself.

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