Self Abuse: The Hidden Shame

by Angela Brooks

The sound of breaking glass then the scream of deep embedded anger pierces the staffs ears as they spring into action from  a sitting position to running to the hallway. To discover a terrified young patient aid clutching a clip board and her eyes wide glaring toward the window in fear. She was new to the unit and had never seen a patient quiet like Martha.

Martha was  a one to one observation due to unpredictable behavior just like she was performing. She was punching the double pane window with her fist so hard they finally shattered cutting her arm. With blood dripping on the floor, and her fighting the staff back so that she could bleed. In a split second she bolted down the hallway toward her room. The staff running to catch her knowing she had a plan she was going to fill.

As she darted into her room she went straight to the window and with one punch she exploded  the window – this time shattering one of her knuckles on her right hand and deeply slicing  her arm.

Staff intervened with force to prevent further harm to herself and one arm pinned to the bed as one staff attempted to wrap the arm to stop the bleeding that was quickly covering the bed sheets.

After several attempts to talk with her to bring her back to a calmer state of mind – she would not contract for safety. Each time the staff would release her limps to sit her up on the bed she would reach for the damaged arm to pull at the wound to inflict more pain. After calling the doctor to the unit, he ordered four point restraints for her protection. She felt immediately relief as her arms and legs were played in leather buckles attached to her bed. I had to ask 'Martha Why?' She replied, "I now feel safe from me."


Self-injury (self-harm, self-mutilation) can be defined as the attempt to deliberately cause harm to one's own body and the injury is usually severe enough to cause tissue damage. This is not a conscious attempt at suicide, though some people may see it that way.

It has been reported that many people who self-injure have a history of sexual or physical abuse, but that is not always the case. Some may come from broken homes, alcoholic homes, have emotionally absent parents, etc. There are many factors that could cause someone to self-injure as a way to cope.


Tonya was another self abuser being held by the court for the next 28 days in rehab. She did not like to be told no and in rehab self control is part of the rules or you will be released. For Tonya that would mean jail time instead of rehab.

The buzzer alarm sounded screaming across every unit in the hospital. The staff pause whatever they are doing to hear the location and type of emergency that is occurring. 'Code D rehab – Code D rehab' all available staff start running to the location of  the buzzer. As staff arrive in the area to assist with the situation the over head buzzer will stop sounding. This time it was ringing longer than usual which gave me cold chills as to what we would be running into.

Arriving in the rehab building the staff stood at the door with boxes of gloves for the arriving staff. Arm loads of towels and a path of towels on the floor already laid out. A member of the staff said "follow the bloody trial".

Briskly walking to the 12 bed dorm room, no one was prepared to see the mess as we turned the corner.

The floor was completely covered in white bloody towels as Tonya stood at the end of the dorm covered in blood. Screaming "Get the fuck back – don't touch me" she was holding her hands like spider man shooting a web, except her web was streams of blood as she pumped her hands to make it shoot across the room. She had taken a razor blade and sliced deep into both wrists.

Screaming and threatening out of control at the staff coming in – everyone pauses to approach her. Not just because of the blood – but the fact she carried Hepatitis C from a history of drug abuse.

The rooms walls were covered in her web of blood – the floor was splattered. As she turned her back to the staff for a moment to write her name on the wall with her blood the staff quickly moved in covering her with several sheets to gain control and not get her blood on them. It took six staff members slipping and sliding in human blood to get her in a position to get the bleeding stopped. The injury was deep, requiring a visit to the hospital for sutures.

People who self-injure are crazy

The pain for these two women's past are similar. One chose to medicate with drugs and alcohol. The other spent a life time cutting her body, banging her head, punishing her body for the memories of her childhood.

If you are a cutter – or you know someone who is. There is help for a safer way to deal with your overwhelming issues. Most self abusers have turned to cutting as a form of relief from the pain inside but it only last for a few minutes – then the pain returns without any recovery from the problem.

People who cut are not mentally ill – they are hurting and usually cover it up so no one will know. They do not try to draw attention to what they are doing. Most self abusers are trying to deal with a trauma and they do not want to die, even though some do. They will cut to trying to cope so that they can keep on living.

Angela Brooks has worked in a state-funded psychiatric hospital in Kentucky for 21 years as a nurse, assisting sometimes-dangerous patients who come in shackled and cuffed. At, she offers stories of life on the inside of a psychiatric ward, and the site, as well as her company, offers support for nurses in the mental health field and helps them bring passion into their role at work.

On her BlogTalkRadio show, Mental Happiness with Angela Brooks, she shares some of her experiences “learning to love those others have forsaken” and gives tips on how to bring peace to your own life.

Everyday we share insights, strategies and even some of our biggest secrets to nurse entrepreneurs  on our Facebook page!  Join the fun and connect with like-minded business owners and Nurses EVERY single day!  Click here and "become friends" with  Angela's NOW!

* Please note: I am not here to CURE, DIAGNOSE, Treat or suggest replacements for what a doctor prescribes. The names used in this post are not the real names of the people being mentioned – I am sharing my nursing adventures with you.

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Angela Brooks is a retired nurse after 25 years in mental health. She used her lunch breaks to build her business part time on the night shift. Her car became a mobile university as she listened to business training, coaching calls on CD and phone webinars. She blogged while she was at her sons' baseball practices.

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1 Jeremie January 24, 2011 at 9:12 am

This is a haunting story to me.  As an ex-cutter… I know what was going through the minds of those patients.  Thankfully I was never institutionalized although I think there may have been times when it would have been best. Its a cruel and miserably painful dungeon of mental torture that they are living in, and its not an easy process to get free, but it IS possible! I'm proof!  Thank you for sharing your point of view, Angela.

2 Sharon Oday January 24, 2011 at 9:23 am

Angela, I have never known a self-abuser (at least I don't THINK I have…). But reading this, I was 'willingly' pulled through a tunnel of extreme pain that you explained so clearly. My respect for you just jumped an additional bunch of notches. Keep writing. We all need to know what you know.

3 Angela Brooks January 24, 2011 at 9:24 am

Sharon thank you – YES – you know a cutter. They hide it well and the pain. Amazing people cut. Their stories are chilling.

4 Angela Brooks January 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

Jeremie – as I sit here in tears reading your story – I am honored to share the story so many do not know or understand. I am so super proud to see the words “Ex-cutter”
you are an amazing example of recovery. *HUGS & Zoots* !!!

5 Lily Iatridis January 24, 2011 at 9:30 am

I once had a student with that problem. Only 12 years old-

6 denny hagel January 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Angela, You and all of those who work in your field are angels from the Lord. Cutting is so often a situation that is met with unfair judgment and criticism. Your obvious heartfelt caring and compassion goes far beyond nursing training…Bless you for all those you are a blessing to. Amazing article!

7 Angela Brooks January 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thank you Denny with each client – you learn something new about how humans think and what they feel deeper than they show. Life is not easy for many but it doesn’t have to be that way for always and forever

8 Victoria Gazeley January 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Once again, Angela, you bring people and issues to us we would never know of otherwise. 

9 Carol Giambri January 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I am familiar with term "cutters" getting my first exposure in Human Service classes studying psychopathology at least 10 tears back. I've seen it associated with OCD too.  Great sharing here all and Jeremie's victory is awesome.

10 Luvon Tetreault February 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm

It truly is amazing. I believe that in our society children and young adults are taught to keep things to themselves. Not to share their hurt, so they internalize the pain they feel. One way or another it has to come out eventually, drugs, alcohol, self-abuse…Very sad, but so very true. If anyone can learn anything from your post would be to allow their children to be open…let them speak their mind and love them with all your heart!

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