Content Warning: we will be discussing the topics of self-injury, self-harm, and self-hate.
I think we need to practice creating spaces where you feel that there's no judgment, and then people can love what's happening.
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Thanks for joining us this evening for talking about self-injury, self-acceptance, and self-love. We have a special guest today. Her name is Nicole Brown Faulknor. She's also known as @wounds2wings on Instagram. Nicole is also a yoga instructor, a registered psychotherapist, and child's news counselor, founder of Wound to Wings trauma, health, and embodiment center. Wounds 2 Wings also provides psychodynamic psychotherapy, body based psychotherapy practices, including Trauma Center, trauma-sensitive yoga, and provides training and workshops in psychotherapy. Nicole has over 18 years of professional experience working with marginalized, vulnerable, and oppressed communities, individuals, families, and children. Just to kind of debrief, everybody, before we get started, I do want to mention a few trigger warnings, we will be discussing the topics of self-injury, self-harm, and self-hate. Which of course can be very heavy topics to talk about. If you need to leave or take a break at any time, please feel free to do so the life will still be here once it's done. So get comfortable, get settled, and yeah, let's get started.
SWY: Can you please introduce yourself and why you came into this work?
NBF: You did a great introduction, so I'll just kind of piggyback on that. I am Nicole Brown Faulknor and I am an activist for the spoken, the unspoken in the silenced in the community. I do a lot of outreach work in between the mental health system. I spent about 18 years plus working for the government. I left that actually during 2018 to come to this work to embody change. I wanted to embody change in the mental health system so that I can work with it a little bit differently, and actually work with it with care, and bring some education and love to it. I thought it would help empower people who may not necessarily reach out for services to access education and resources and so I woke up one morning just quit my career and started the wounds2wings IG and this is me.
SWY: Can you please explain the differences between self-harm and self-hate?
NBF: Okay, so one of the things I do on the community page on Wednesdays is these community voices. So if I'm building the community, and some people have questions, I kind of bring the voice forward and talk about it. A few weeks ago, I feel now with the lockdown, it actually feels like things are going fast, but it should be slow. But a few weeks ago now, I talked to you about self-harm and I would describe self-harm as a way to release emotions. That's how I would just simplify it. Self-hate, to me, how, I define it is displaced anger. So, what happens with trauma is you kind of split off from the trauma to survive it, it's like a survival mechanism. But when you split off, it's easier to turn inward than outward. So, it's easier to hate yourself because anger is an energy. It's not really an emotion, it's an energy, and it has to go somewhere. So, if you don't feel safe enough to place it on what the trauma is, or who you're angry at, you'll turn it inward. This creates a world of self-hate.
SWY: What impacts self-harm and self-hate?
NBF: So what impacts it is the anger, it's internalized anger. What happens when you internalize it and hold it in, you may not know you're doing it, but today, I'm going to put some education and language around it. It's actually when you hold it in it creates a shame and secrecy, which is an embodied feeling like something's wrong with you. Like you are wrong, your existence is wrong. It's a coping mechanism. Okay, so that's the impact of self-hate. Now, impacts of self-harm. I know when I talk to parents of children who self-harm their reactions a bit like they're having thoughts of suicide, or they're trying to kill themselves, and this is very different. I don't like to say even though they kill themselves, I think that suicide is trying to take care of a part that feels so hopeless and so there's work around that as a professional around that piece. But that's not what we're talking about really today. Self-harm is that it helps reduce anxiety and relieves it. It also is used to help with sadness and loneliness. It also alleviates feelings of anger. It can also be used to escape and escape the feelings of numbness. Some people cannot feel that this is act of self-harm, however, it's done in a way to help them feel. See, so that's how I would share the impact. Some people do use it to self-punish and this is where the anger comes in when you begin to work with it on a professional level.
Viewer Comment: What are the signs that someone is self-harming? Is there is there a way to recognize when someone is self-harming?
NBF: Usually close friends and family members will notice a lot of isolation or covering mood changes. It's hard to say usually it's discovered and but like with any type of change in someone's personality, if you know them, then that's a sign to me to write, to be curious to begin talking to them about it. I don't know how to say it because this is not professional advice, let me disclaim it, but they are trying to reduce anxiety so they may need connection. So maybe with that connection they'll share when they feel safe enough or not judged. But I kind of follow moods and changes with personality, especially around the isolation piece withdrawing, right.
SWY: What is the cycle of self-injury?
NBF: I don't know if it's helpful to for people to embody it like to feel out what might be going on. So maybe let's talk about the cycle of self injury and self-harming because when someone is actually perhaps exploring, working through symptoms of self-harm, there's an anxiety that happens. So, the person feels anxiety ad then it's followed by an impulse to hurt so hard. So ,they try to trying to resist this impulse. But it actually only creates more tension in the body and it makes them feel like they want to do it more. So, the person is likely going to engage in this act, to release the tension out of their bodies. Then when they do that, this is where this embodiment of shame in that habits, and then they feel shame around it engaging in this act of self-injury. This shame may lead to more anxiety, and that it restarts the cycle. So, they're their brains and our bodies are stuck in this loop.
SWY: What are some things individuals can do to work on self-hate?
NBF: I think what's important around this is like, first of all, a safe place where you can get help without judgment. I wonder sometimes if those spaces are real, because we're talking about the embodiment of shame around self-injury and self-harming, it's quite debilitating physically, for someone, to reach out or to work with it. So I'm a therapist. First of all, some things individuals can do if they feel safe enough to do that is to talk to a therapist or preferred professional. So they can begin to hear from the anger or the anxiety or whatever is expressing itself and also to find other coping mechanisms because this is a coping mechanism. They may not know that there are other ways of coping. When I speak of coping mechanisms, I'm actually talking about, survival strategies that they learned on their own. When they're when they felt hopeless at one point in time, that might be kind of pushed off and repressed, do you see? I would say that and then they can get to the root because this started at the root of something, and so they get a chance to address the original issue or the root of learning to cope this way.
SWY: One is what is one thing you would say to someone who is self-harming and looking for ways to find help, but doesn't know how?
NBF: I would say that you might want to help them connect with other people and you might want to encourage them to do things that make them feel happy. It might sound really simple, but again this is not professional advice. But you probably want to do things that make them happy. You want to help them connect to other people, you want to also spend time with them because isolation is a thing, and it actually exacerbates symptoms, moods, and feelings of anxiety. So you probably want to spend time with people and listen to what they have to say.
Viewer Comment: Would you say that self-deprecating speech is considered a form of self-injury? 2
NBF: So, deprecation is a bit different but it is a form of self-injury. Now working with self-deprecating symptoms, their acts of violence on the self. So, it has a different intensity and level. It is an internal act of violence in the way that the talk goes into what I like to call annihilating yourself. It is an act of violence; violence on the self.
SWY: So just to clarify, self-harm is kind of or self-injury is more so like a coping mechanism. Whereas self-deprecating speeches are like a form of actual violence due to the conversation that you basically have with yourself?
Viewer Comment: What are the statistics of the black community/black youth seeking help when they are experiencing self-hate or self-injury?
NBF: The statistics, I wish I had that accessible. But what I'll say is that in our community, I wonder about spaces. I don't know if there's a lot of spaces where black youth feel comfortable to go to explore that or to feel comfortable in choosing other black counselors or other black communities to do this work. But if you are able to find a space like that within your community, that may be an option to export even stats or look it up? I'll probably look that up but I don't know.
SWY: What can individuals do to support loved ones who self harm?
NBF: So first of all, I think it's important that they seek help hands down, because what one of the things that happens is that friends may try to take care of them or be responsible for what they're going through. But I think that they need professional help. So, encourage them to seek help. The other thing is, although they may want to avoid discussing the issue, I think it's important to understand their feelings and their emotions that make them self-injure because if they're comfortable a strong component of it is actually talking about it prior to treatment and is the thing that they may want to avoid talking about. I think that although it's important that we encourage the person to go, they must be ready. You making the person go or say you should, that can exacerbate things. So they must be ready on their own terms and they must be committed to change.
SWY: We have to give people space and time to talk about what they're feeling. But I kind of just want to stress that there are a lot of supports out there. I hope that if somebody does need to get in contact with a support system or create a support system, there are lots of resources available.
Viewer Comment: How can we encourage self-love in ourselves and in youth specifically?
NBF: Well, the work is around the judgment. I think that although sometimes we're like no we're not judgemental, we're actually judging. That is something that's felt from one body to another, even if you're not saying it. I think we need to practice creating spaces where you feel that there's no judgment, and then people can love what's happening. Here's another one that I like to debunk a little bit, as well. But if someone is struggling, I'm talking specifically about self-injury and self-harm, if they're struggling, one of the things to think about is if there is an underlying issue here that might not be accessible to the youth or to them. Or do they want to share it with others. And so, to me, self-love is just a soft place to land.
SWY: What are some other toxic terms/concepts for someone experiencing self-hate?
NBF: Well, self-love, self-compassion, toxic positivity. These are things that repress things because self-love is a term I like to debunk because it's like the thing to do like, oh, you're not self-loving? Oh, okay. So, I'm over here self-loving, when you're able to do it, you can go. it has this like them and us type of thing. Self-love to me, and especially around like self-injury and self-harm, which needs a really tender loving blanket around it, means to me, the most rawness. It's a place where you can be just a authentically and unapologetically like you. There's something very humbling and soft about that because you might just want to get that out and that might be the energy, but it's hard to find places like that. The one I'm talking about is a place where there's no judgment, it's like, do you have a spot like that? So, some of those concepts, I think that they might be toxic. Sometimes it depends on how it's held. But sometimes those types of topics that are out there create them and us, and then that's a power thing, right? You're wanting to fit in, and it actually can exacerbate more things because there's you can't find that place in you that loves.
Viewer Comment: So how has the pandemic affected this issue?
NBF: I'm going to say with the pandemic, what no one's talking about three years ago, is this collective time of it is collected grief. That's what's happening right now. What does that mean? It means all of our ways of being are regressed. So, we're all going back to old ways of coping. Okay, because of this collective response that's happening in the world. So, some people are coping, and some people are not. Some people are coping, but they're probably still regressed and it comes in all different ways. So I think things have been exacerbated right now, what people are feeling because of the invisible chaos and confusion, right? That we're kind of holding around us. Right? Yeah, it's heavy.
Viewer Comment: How can a parent support their child who may be self-harming?
NBF: Okay, so yeah, it'll, it'll be the same advice around seeking help. Also, trying as a parent to not be judgmental about what's going on and seeing if they want to talk about it. Sometimes they do, but most times, they don't want to talk to the parents about it. So if you’re able to get them help, see if they're ready, maybe keep it light the conversation, instead of it being the unspoken elephant in the room. Being supportive around when they’re ready, when they want to change this, when they want to talk about this, just keeping it visible, might be useful.
Viewer Comment: What can we do as a community to promote self-acceptance?
NBF: Well, less judgment would be great. Just show up authentically, like having a deep day and say, I just said without saying, well, it's going to be great. Yeah. Yeah, I think as a collective and as a community if we can honor differences more than not and be curious more often than not and collaborating a community of acceptance.
We want to thank Nicole for sharing her expertise and knowledge about self-injury, self-love, and self-acceptance. Make sure to check out her Instagram as well as her website for more information about the services that Nicole offers.