Self-Harming: How REBT Can Provide Relief



You’ll never predict people who self-harm. Some may seem ordinary, jolly on the outside, and happy with their lives. There are no traces in their “personality” that they harbor such ill feelings for themselves and self-harm, while others are more prominent in showing their symptoms. Honestly, it is just so sad.

The questions here are: Can self-harming lead to suicidal thoughts, and is it because of the situation or the person’s mental health state?

In some instances, both questions are answerable by YES. When a person feels so down, is socially isolated, has no family support, or in an abusive relationship, etc., it is possible that circumstances, situations or environmental factors like these can push the limits of their “minds.” They may wish to die because they can’t find meaning in their lives and they think the worst of themselves. But not everyone who has these issues is suicidal.

Cognitive Therapy And Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Explains Self-Harming And Suicide


According to Williams & Wells (1989), from a cognitive therapy viewpoint (wherein REBT is a branch of it), there are two focal points as to why people commit suicide or inflicts physical pain on themselves:

  1. Communication – People who are suicidal or self-harming desire to convey a message to those whom they feel are not paying attention to them.
  2. Escape – Those who try to harm themselves or think of suicide usually feel that it is their only option.

“Not all people who have thoughts of suicide end up acting on those thoughts. But for those who do, generally there is deep emotional pain combined with a belief that things will never improve.” –Dr. Chantal Gagnon PhD LMHC

Now, based on Albert Ellis’ program, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, he explains that people commit self-harming or think of suicide because they feel disturbed, in a sense. They have self-hate which is an ego disturbance, and they believe that they are always in an uncomfortable situation, which is a discomfort disturbance.


Ego Disturbance

People see themselves very poorly, and that means they have a low self-image. “By conveying this message to you, they keep you ensnared because you eventually start believing that no one else would ever want you,” says Nicole Issa, Psy.D. They have these ideas in their heads that they must look as such, and behave like this to fit the norms. These people often manifest negative thoughts such as:

  • Nobody loves me.
  • I have no one who cares for me.
  • I’m a failure.
  • There’s nothing good about me and my life.
  • I have to do this or else; nobody will like me.
  • Their approval is necessary; otherwise, I’m nothing.
  • Disappointment is not an option.
  • My life is not worth living if I don’t achieve this.
  • I deserve to die.


Discomfort Disturbance

Those individuals with this belief think this way:

  • I am so depressed.
  • My life has lost its meaning.
  • The pain is so excruciating.
  • There is no other choice.
  • I have to kill myself.

Intervention By REBT Counselors

If the person falls into the “communicate” category, REBT counselors will attempt to flush out that message and facilitate communication. To whom is the message for? Why is there such a message? What is the remedy? With these questions checked, a specific type of therapy program is recommended, for example, relationship therapy or couples counseling.

Now, if the person falls into the “escape” category, REBT counselors may need a team of professionals to assist the person. This state of mind is precarious since the person is contemplating suicide. The person must be helped to feel safe and at peace.

As for the disturbances (ego and discomfort), there are coping plans through REBT. One exercise facilitated by a counselor is to list down the advantages and disadvantages of staying alive, as well as committing suicide or self-harming. Sometimes, people find the relief that they long for by doing this. So “If you know someone who is thinking about, talking about or you think may be at risk for suicide don’t ignore them. Often times there is a misconception that people who talk about suicide don’t end up killing themselves, but this is untrue.” Torey C. Richards, LMHC said.