17: A Love Letter to Betrayers – Self Harm

17-35% of college students engage in self-harm. Part of the reason we don’t know the exact numbers for sure is because of the intense stigma around the topic.

Many people interpret self-harm as a way of “acting out” or “looking for attention.” However, it’s important that we don’t stereotype—pain does not discriminate and people of all ages and backgrounds can be at risk for self-harm.

by Hannah Kwawu

Act I

I have an adult friend that recently self-harmed and in the process severely hurt himself requiring emergency surgery. He has a long history of self harm.

People found out about it through a series of three Tweets. I had known about it for a few days and had some sense of what was happening beyond the Twitter announcement.

As I read through the comments I thought how amazing it was that the vast majority of her Tribe talked about her and his moment in mature and compassionate tones offering prayers, well-wishes, love, and hugs.

Empathy, compassion, and understanding without judgement of her or him.

Act II

However, there was a sub-thread that was more of the usual flaming, indignant, and angry rhetoric judging his intentions and implying she doesn’t get how manipulative he really is. As if she is too stupid to see it.

People do not recognize how damaging that kind of shaming is to people already hurting, angry, and scared. They just pile on, projecting imagined stories, believing they are helping.

Several of the people impacted by infidelity and struggling with ongoing resentments called it a manipulative attempt to avoid consequences. Pushing their rage, entitlement, anger onto his wife and offering unsolicited advice and judgement.

I was left wondering if infidelity wasn’t involved if they would respond the same way.

I wonder if she had simply said, “My husband did something super-selfish and shame-filled and after confronting him, he self-harmed, and ended up breaking his own arm creating all kinds of pain and damage for me, us, him, and our family.”

I wonder if they didn’t know about his past if they would have told her in her fear, anxiety, and shame to get out, he was manipulating her, and was incapable of being responsible or adulting. I wonder if they didn’t know their history if they still would have encouraged her to leave him, hoped she divorces him, or wished more violence on him?

The irony of course is she has made it clear in the past, both publicly and privately, if she stays or leaves it will be on her own terms. She recognizes his humanity even when she doesn’t like him as a human. Her responses are a reflection of her own humanity and heart, and not a weakness of character or a sign of low self-esteem or self-respect.

…maybe envy of her heart is why they root for her failure and his ongoing isolation.

And they proclaim I lack empathy. *eyeroll*


Reading this led me to ignore my own boundaries and ask a question about people’s perspective on self-harm, how a few people define it, and how one person’s self-harm was an act and another person’s self-harm is meaningfully different.

This led to general conversation with laypersons about whether his self-harming was a manipulative attempt by a pathological person to avoid consequences karmically struck, or a dangerous and unskillful defense mechanism to deal with his own traumas and wounds.

Other people likened it to religiously self-flagellation, where through pain of the flesh he sought a god’s forgiveness.

Maybe it is all of that. Or none. Or some.

I originally asked the question on Twitter thinking I might get some insight as I have no experience with this kind of self-harm (although one could argue infidelity is simply self-harm on a low burn).

It didn’t go well. The same people that imagined malicious intentions about self harm, imagined the same about my questions and they became defensive.

As such, I took the conversation to Affair Recovery’s pages and asked my question. I am genuinely interested in people’s experience with self-harm so I can better support my friends.

If you can help me better understand self-harm and how you experience it, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, if you love someone that self-harms I’d like to learn a bit more about that too. Please write below.

If you would prefer to write me directly and remain anonymous you can email me from the contact page.

Comments on self-harm

  • For Christians, deliverance ministries like Derek Prince’s, Neil Anderson’s, Henry and Tina Malone’s” offer help on self-harm
  • In the moments leading into self-harm I find myself yelling things my schizophrenic stepfather would scream at me before abuse me: “Stupid! Stupid! STUPID! You can’t do anything right! Look at what you’ve done! You’re useless! I hate you.”
  • Self harm may be an attempt to relive and control painful experiences
  • It’s a cousin of numbing out with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, and other dysfunctional ways of coping
  • When things have been very hard, and when I’ve been facing the trauma of betrayal, I have at times engaged in thoughts of self harm
  • I had a girlfriend who wanted to be raped as her way of controlling her gang rape when she was younger
  • As soon as I am flooding I cannot stop
  • I hide my self-harm from those around me
  • It can become a complex, habitual pattern of dealing with anger and depression over time if not treated through therapy to address the underlying emotions
  • Non suicidal self injury (NSSI) impulses are still an indicator for me if I’m needing to do some self care
  • In a fight with my partner I end up having multiple fights: one with my partner, another with a version of my abuser in my head, and one with shame telling me I’m destined to fail
  • I have at times engaged in thoughts of self harm and so to this day I don’t like driving long distances
  • Self harm also produces a euphoria similar to a runner’s high and is a type of self medicating the pain or helplessness in a situation
  • The individual involved usually has difficulty processing intense negative emotions
  • It momentarily releases the anxiety and reduces the negative feelings followed by guilt and shame at having committed the act


A quick note about the Twitter conversation. It was headed someplace entirely toxic so I left the conversation…but I’ll save that for later because where the conversation went after I left was a really a helpful gift.