“Self-harm” most often refers to physical self harm, but mentally abusing and starving oneself also fit the definition — as “emotional self harm.”
These less obvious or intense versions of hurting yourself might feel acceptable and productive, helping you feel less numb or worthless. But there are still much better ways to cope.
You may have internalized the belief that you don’t deserve anyone’s effort or resources – including your own. And this sometimes comes out as a reluctance to feed yourself, to accept your mistakes, or to ask for what you need.
Emotional self harm, like starving yourself, makes it easier to believe that your distorted beliefs are true. Denying yourself basic needs reinforces your belief that you do not deserve to have your needs met.
And the subconscious urge to behave according to your beliefs makes sense. Making your reality mimic your distorted thoughts reduces cognitive dissonance, or the discomfort that arises when your beliefs and reality are at odds.
Turning to emotional self harm makes sense for a number of reasons, but it’s also worth re-assessing these short-term solutions, to find more healthy and self-loving ways to cope.
Why starving yourself is tempting
There are a number of reasons starving yourself might seem like a good idea:
- Eating makes you feel more in touch with your body. This might feel uncomfortable if zoning out is your main coping mechanism. So, you avoid eating.
- High stress levels and nausea (which can stem from a chronic or unaddressed fight/flight response) steal your appetite, so why eat.
- Unstoppable self-hatred (e.g. body dysmorphia) makes you want to lose weight as quickly as possible.
While not eating might be a tempting solution to these problems, it won’t work.
When you don’t eat, especially for long periods of time, your body literally starts to panic. It then devotes more resources to getting the nourishment it needs; starving yourself also makes you more aware of your own hunger, and it increases stress.
All of the above make starving yourself counterproductive to your original goals — and a form of emotional self harm.
Challenge your motivations
If your concern is looking heavy, you’re working against yourself. Not eating tells your body that food is inaccessible, which can make you fixate on food and even gain weight faster.
If you’re worried about feeling too in-touch with your body, remember you’ll be forced to think about bodily sensations, regardless — once the hunger gets past a certain point. At the beginning of hunger, at least you still have some power against it.
Try eating foods that pass easily through your digestive system, like soups, smoothies, yogurt, etc. This might help tone down your hyper-awareness of your body, while still getting you anxiety-reducing nourishment.
And if anxiety’s keeping you from eating to begin with, remember this: when you avoid eating, you risk making yourself feel even more anxious. Not just anxious, but desperately anxious, because when you starve yourself, your body senses desperation.
Again, try easily digestible, liquid-based foods; or figure out if there are times during the day you can tolerate eating more than others, and have something ready for yourself then.
One last note…
You are so worthy – of love, of attention, of admiration, of safety, and of nourishment. People may have treated you in a way that indicates otherwise, but we are here to ask you not to believe them.
If you need reassurance, support, or just someone to listen, consider talking to peers in an anonymous chat. Enter your thoughts, and you will be connected in less than a minute.
It usually helps to talk to others who understand what you are going through. We are here for you.