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Are Negative Self-Schemas a Form of Self-Harm?

Content warning: This blog discusses physical and mental self-harm. If you or someone you love is considering self-harm or suicide, please call the national crisis line at 988 or text HOME to 741741 for help.

Self-harm is a term that can encompass many negative physical and mental acts meant to bring harm to a person. The definition can be broad, though. Where is the line drawn? Does simply holding a negative self-schema constitute self-harm? Let’s explore how self-schemas are developed and the impact they have on an individual’s life.

Self-Referential Processing and Self-Schemas

Individuals normally go through self-referential processing during their lives. Self-referential processing simply allows a person to reflect on their role in the world. Afterward, people may understand themselves, their experiences, and their role in events. The typical result isn’t harmful. It can even help a person grow and change.

When people undergo childhood neglect or emotional abuse, self-referential processing is different. The victim must find a way to work through the trauma. If someone internalizes themselves as responsible or at fault for the maltreatment, this can predicate negative self-schemas and later depression.

Examples of Negative Self-Schemas

What are negative self-schemas? Self-schemas are ideas and frameworks through which we perceive information about ourselves. They can change the way we think and act. Negative self-schemas are unhealthy, degrading, and harmful versions of these self-beliefs. Examples include the following:

  • “I am worthless”
  • “My mind is defective”
  • “I can’t do anything right”
  • “Everything is my fault”
  • “I am unlovable”
  • “I’ll never succeed in life”
  • “I deserve to be abused”

We take these schemas as prescriptive instead of descriptive. The core beliefs are all rooted in distorted thinking and logic. They can also cause detrimental consequences on an individual’s life once they begin to influence their behaviors.

Negative Self-Schemas and Self-Harm

To answer the original question posed in this blog, negative self-schemas aren’t self-harm in and of themselves. They are simply central ideas about ourselves and our identities. Often, it isn’t the schemas themselves that put us in danger; rather, it is the conclusions we draw because of them. Example: “I am worthless; therefore, it won’t matter if I hurt myself.”

Unfortunately, these thoughts, combined with intense emotions and a proclivity toward self-destructive behaviors, can result in mental and/or physical self-harm. A person who believes they are unlovable could preemptively start isolating every person they care about. An individual who believes they are worthless could begin to physically hurt themselves. When someone thinks they deserve abuse, they might engage in activities that retraumatize their psyche.

When a person has faced emotional abuse and neglect, they may start to internalize the problems. As they move forward, they often define themselves by negative self-schemas. The schemas can create intense emotions that a person doesn’t know how to cope with. Eventually, the person might begin to self-harm. If you’re in this position, it’s important to acknowledge that these self-destructive behaviors can be unlearned. By reprocessing your past, you can set yourself on a healthier path. At The Guest House, we know that traumas drive many self-defeating behaviors. Our trauma specialists can help you. Call (855) 483-7800.