Weird Behavior

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I wondered if you could give me any idea what this might be.

In general I have low self esteem and a touch of anxiety but nothing out of the ordinary. My question is about some strange behaviour I exhibit from time to time.
I act this way when I am already feeling that I don’t like myself and then some small thing happens that, to my mind, confirms the truth of those feelings. I then feel compelled to punch and slap myself and bite my hands and wrists, often I shout as well: usually obscenities aimed at myself.

The strength of the compulsion varies: sometimes I can exercise control and not act on the feeling, at other times I can hold off until I am alone. On some occasions I am not able to exercise control. The behaviour lasts from a few seconds to an hour or more.

I do notice that when I am acting like this (plus immediately before and after) my thoughts are very different to how I would think normally and not rational, so I am almost in a different state. When not in this state I find it difficult to remember accurate details of the behaviour. For example if someone asked me how many times it had happened in the last week I might recall only with effort.

The frequency of my weird behaviour varies, happening more often in times of stress. Recently I identified a particular childhood incident that I think this behaviour may be linked to and working this out also seems to have decreased the frequency of the behaviour.

My life is not too badly affected by the weird behaviour but I would be curious to know what you think it is. From what I have read I don’t think it is a typical scenario for self harm and I am not experiencing dissociation exactly although it does seem to be in the same ballpark.

I’d be grateful for your ideas.

A. Your symptoms may be indicative of Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder that often begins in childhood between the ages of seven and 10 years old. It affects males at a higher rate than females. Characteristics of this syndrome include repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.

The involuntary compulsion you feel to slap and bite yourself as well as shout obscenities are likely tics. There are two types of tics: simple and complex. Yours are probably of the complex variety. Tics tend to increase when an individual feels anxious or stressed but that is not true for everyone.

I agree with your assessment of self-harm and disassociation. Those are not fitting explanations. Your symptoms are not characteristic of an individual who purposefully harms him or herself. Your behaviors do not seem to be within your control.

I of course cannot officially diagnose you over the Internet. Based on information you provided you may have Tourette syndrome but it is important that you are evaluated by a mental health professional.

There are no specific tests that can be given to determine a Tourette diagnosis. Generally, a mental health professional relies on an individual’s personal history and current symptom levels to determine whether or not he or she is given a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome.

I would encourage you to read more about Tourette syndrome. The websites listed below are very informative. Many of the websites also describe treatments. Treatments include medication and psychotherapy.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Mayo Clinic

National Tourette Syndrome Association

Tourette Syndrome Plus

National Institute of Health

The National Tourette Syndrome Association has an information and referral service. You can e-mail or call individuals from this association. They may be able to assist you in locating treatment professionals who specialize in treating Tourette syndrome. Here’s a direct link to that website. There you can find the contact information.

I hope this information helps to shed light on what you may be experiencing. What is very encouraging about your situation is that while your symptoms are bothersome, they are not overly affecting your life. Perhaps with the proper treatment you will be able to eliminate them entirely.

I wish you well in the future. Thanks for writing. Please take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Weird Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/04/weird-behavior/

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