What’s wrong with me?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I started self-harming around 13. My mom was emotionally and verbally abusive to me. She would constantly scream at me, She would call me worthless, disgusting, the worst child she ever had, and told me she hated me. Once she even blamed me for her drinking. She would make comments about me ‘hacking on my self’. I suffered through her emotional abuse. And no one would stop her. My dad, and older sibling heard the stuff she said but wouldn’t do anything about it. I think a part of me felt abandoned. She was and is an alcoholic prescription drug addict. My dad is neglectful and never there. He told me once he wasn’t even my dad. My parents fight. My dad yells at my mom calling her a drunk and a whore. Sometimes they would push each other around. I would make sure my three younger siblings were in a room away from where my parents fought. But I had to witness their fighting.
I have OCD. I check things like lights or locks, count steps and other things, I go up and down stairs a certain number of times or until it “feels” right.
I feel like there’s something wrong with me but don’t know what.
I don’t or just can’t love anyone. I use to love my parents when I was younger but that changed after all the emotional abuse. I don’t hate them, I just don’t love them. Also I hate people touching me, and it’s worse with people in my family. It makes my skin burn and I’ll scratch and scrub at it. Sometimes I starve myself, because it makes me feel so pure and light.
I still cut myself though nobody knows. Sometimes I cut myself because I like to. I don’t know why. Sometimes I wonder if I have self-defeating personality disorder. I’m not really attracted to people that are caring and affectionate. I think I’m drawn toward depressing, destructive things and people.
There are times when I’ll go out into the building we keep tools and stuff and I’ll scream as loud as I can. When my mom has to go shopping I’ll try to get her to take the kids so I can be home alone, once after they left I took a shower and screamed hitting and kicking the walls. And I like to just set in the bathtub. I don’t let anyone else know, my mom would yell about me being crazy. Sometime I have trouble sleeping or I’ll wake up several times. I’ve stayed awake for three or four days a few times before. A couple of weeks ago I laid in bed all day sleeping or staring at the wall; I don’t do that often though.
There are times when I want to scream and yell and throw things around the room, scratch at my face and arms and pull my hair and bite my arms, and just lay there crying.
I don’t know if I have a mental disorder or if I’ve just been so emotionally damaged that I’ve lost it.

A: I really don’t think you have a “self-defeating personality.” What you are describing may be the effects of repeated trauma. You’ve done the best you can to manage feelings that are overwhelming and frightening. You’ve tried to find ways to control at least some things in a life that often felt out of control and to protect yourself from further harm. You’ve actually done a very good job coping with feelings and a situation that many adults would have trouble dealing with. Now you are finding that the ways you coped at 13 aren’t working for you – or at least aren’t working enough.

Yes, I know you feel you’ve “lost it.” But, please trust me. Losing it is a way that people cope when they have nowhere to turn. Now we need to get you to someone who has the skills and experience to help you reclaim yourself and your life. Please talk with your doctor or a school counselor to get the names of counselors who specialize in trauma and recovery. You need some intensive therapy to learn new ways to deal with all the hard things that have happened to you and to go forward in your life.

Meanwhile, If your parents are still violent with each other and can’t take care of you and your younger siblings, it may be necessary to call in child protective services. Please talk to an adult you trust about what is going on at home and how best to take care of kids who are too young to take care of themselves in this situation. No child should live in fear.

I am so sorry that you are dealing with so much so young. I know it’s very hard and I don’t blame you a bit for being mad and sad about it. But your letter tells me there is a strong inner core to rely on. Do some reading about recovery from trauma. And – please – turn to some people who can help you. You’ve been trying to manage this on your own long enough. With some support, you’ll come through this tough time okay.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). What’s wrong with me?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/23/whats-wrong-with-me-6/