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Caregiving & Coping with Disturbing Behavior: Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

WARNING: Before reading this blog, please note the topic of Self-Injury or Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI), may be very difficult for some to take! Please read at your own discretion and risk.

(Please know: I have my Husband’s permission to publicly speak about this private matter.)

This post could be liken to fingernails scraping a blackboard or worse; SORRY! ‘Brave’ enough? – Read on:

Caregiving and coping with the very disturbing behavior of a mentally ill partner is like playing and surviving an extremely dangerous sport!

(FYI: As a Mother of 4, who doesn’t want her kids or anyone’s getting hurt, I don’t recommend extreme sports!) Can we have fun without endangering ourselves or getting hurt? Okay, THANKS for listening; enough mothering for now.  Back to the topic at hand: NSSI.

Hookipa Maui Flying SurferQueenstown: BUNGY JUMPING!!Time is Money

 Learning to Survive the Emotional Tsunami…

Cutting, Burning and…Poetry? Oh My!

Being married to Mental Health Humor cartoonist, Chato Stewart, for over two decades has been filled with ups and downs. VERY HIGH-HIGHS and very low-lows…extreme ebbs and flows. Our courtship and first half of marriage was beautiful, loving, joy-filled times–blessed to have married the man of my dreams and then unsuspectingly appearing (due to illness)…the man of my nightmares…the full-blown, extreme-range of intense joy and intense pain, intense emotions is beyond the limitations of my words. Chato at 19

CHATO is one of my greatest teachers!:) Important lessons of love, forgiveness and compassion i’ve learned through our life and struggles together. Looking back to the early years of our relationship, I can see some signs of hypomanic episodes now.

At the time, he enjoyed sweets and Chato learned to think of his mood swings as sugar highs and his lows as sugar crashes. Yes, we were young and in love, ignorant and uneducated about mental illnesses.

When things got really bad, we identified it as his Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde appearances. We managed these seemingly random appearances as best we could with lots of love, faith, forgiveness and hope! It wasn’t only Bon jovilivin’ on a prayer“…we were, too.

He “secretly” resorted to branding and burning himself to cope with stress, distress, problems, etc. It happened late at night, when I was asleep, unaware and he was up very late alone. Upon discovery, it totally terrified me!! (I cannot adequately put into words the nightmarish, crushing feelings of distraught and despair and utter helplessness when you witness by accident someone you deeply love deeply hurt, burn, cut, brand themselves on purpose!!:( 🙁

The first time, I lacked understanding and ability to process this disturbing incident…I had no previous frame of reference on which to draw…why would he be hurting himself on purpose and what is going on??? What does it mean??? How do I make him immediately stop?!?! Oh GOD, PLEASE HELP HIM! Am I asleep and/or can somebody PLEASE wake me up fast from this horrific nightmare?!

It was traumatizing, paralyzing and I lost a measure of innocence…my naturally optimistic view of things, my very-rosy-colored glasses I was wearing (due to my stable, sheltered, loving, family upbringing/background) were now cracked; not shattered! (i choose to wear compassion glasses…which are rosy and cracked, too.)shutterstock_123954892

My view, my eye-sight had now dramatically changed…an awful, terrible reality check I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My bubble was completely popped! (I only found out later (after our marriage), he dealt with cutting as a teen which progressed to burning/branding as a young adult.) He did talk about the topic of  “pain” during our courtship and we had very deep conversations on a wide-variety of topics.

He “explained” he liked pain! “Physical” pain to release/blow off steam of unbearable “emotional” pain (His explanation was of little comfort to me.)…that’s weird, bizarre – not symptoms of ?…I was unaware and didn’t fully realize all the deep pain (emotionally) he was dealing with from his childhood and back-ground. We grew up in different worlds.

I didn’t get it – he was mentally sick and needed professional help!…I had inklings, fringes, pieces of memories and stories he told me during dating…but didn’t put the complete puzzle together till years later that he was using self-injury as a coping skill…and in his case, he was trying to avoid suicide. 

shutterstock_44272255 edited by Chato Stewart 460

After this first, terrible incident (and other self-injury incidents), he would act “normal” (sorry if that word is offensive, cannot find any other one.) What I mean by “normal”…is He acted like nothing happened and his torment, torture was over for him; not for me! He was pretty good at hiding this disturbing secret/behavior for a long while and I “stupidly” missed the signs! Strike one.

Some are afraid of the dark. They turn on a light. The light was now on this dark, disturbing behavior…becoming aware and educated gave me courage. (Prayer did too.) The dark isn’t scarey anymore!:) Don’t face the dark alone. Keep the lights on! I found a lot of comfort and strength in ancient wisdom (Bible reading). (How do you talk about NSSI with your family or his…we didn’t!)

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my foot,

And a light to my roadway.”


 Please, seek help for Your loved one who may be using self-injury as a coping strategy for emotional distress!! (Your loved one can learn positive, new coping skills. My hubby did and has been free from self-injury for 5 years, 1 month and twenty-seven days and counting! i am VERY proud of his progress!! He has written publicly on this topic (in his blog) to help encourage others in their personal struggle to learn healthy coping behaviors.

Remember, your loved one(s) needs love, support and patience from You! It may take a while to unlearn unhealthy habits and learn new, healthy coping skills! Cheer them on and don’t condemn.:)

I love writing poetry. For me, it’s a healthy strategy to positively manage my deep emotion…Chato never wrote a single poem till we started dating.  He has written me many beautiful, loving, endearing poems through the years for which I am thankful!!

As time went by and his illness surfaced…the dark, disturbing, morbid, gruesome, frightening poetry started to emerge and some times, it was aimed at me. It mostly dealt with death and his wanting to end the pain… Should I share a poem with you?…hmmm, NOPE!…

However, Chato said YES!

Written for my wife Joan for our 15th anniversary.

By: Chato 10/6/06

Dear Love

Dear love, true love, peacemaker and balance to my soul.
Once, you were a labyrinth that none could follow. Now I have mapped you out on my heart and found the way to wonders, to love, to peace.
The Path with its over growth and obstacles I bared, with the bones of lost love littered about.  Unworthy and unable to make their way to you, doomed to the labyrinth they lay.  Yet I have way to your heart Dear love, and you to mine.
As time has passed, the days gone by have learned me this lesson true.
That dear love is true love that endures each day and everlasting, as long as I have you.
Published in Local Paper and Won an award
Here’s the very next poem he gave me just 6 days later:

10/12/06 Daunted Love

 Daunted Love, lost lust, cold ice water fills your vine.  Grapes of wrath spoiled and tart are your kisses without sweetness, swarming death in your heart. Blind to the facts as you live by your truth. More important are the frills of life so your image will not tarnish, more important then even me who once was. You follow beliefs that make you clean to the fact that you are untouchable.  Yet the spirit has long been dead.
Spoiled, rotten, festering flesh, cast off even by your touch.  I have done all to serve you but true to your cold heart you remain.
More important you are on your high pedestal, totting about as you look down with the smug heart doing the deed you promised as a cold deed that needs doing.
Rejected, you cast me away not to touch always. Rejected, you cover yourself in a shroud of lies. Rejected, you make me the villain as if I plot your demise.
It is easy for you, you and your high pedestal.  Do just what is called for never doing what I need, doing what gets you by.
Daunted Love, lust lost, last love, done.

As a Caregiver and Partner who chooses compassion…it can be VERY difficult learning to cope/deal with unexpected, disturbing, extreme behavior from Your Partner such as cutting, burning and then hurtful, gruesome poetry/words, (imagine what it’s like: you “think” all is well & your hubby has left you a love note and you find a suicide note instead!:(…a double whammy of incredible emotional pain!…it’s one thing to see your loved one in pain due to illness and then it’s quite another thing to see them self-inflict i.e. cut themselves: bleed or burn themselves on purpose. (It’s torture.) When it comes to suicide prevention and self-injury prevention, i’ve learned the importance (and meaning of) CONSTANT VIGILANCE!🙂

Read an article “Harm’s Way” in WebMd…about Self-embedding being a psychiatric disorder involving deliberate, non-suicidal self-injury. The article highlighted:  “As many as 6% of teenagers admit to inserting objects under their skin.” “While some researchers consider embedding and other forms of NSSI a symptom of borderline personality disorder, it happens in people with other disorders, as well as in people without another diagnosis.”

{Just when one thinks they know it all/heard it all -lol…I only found out while sharing this post with Chato, that he too did embedding with nails and staples using  a commercial staple gun not a paper one; Ouch!}

The article went on to mention: “Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) which is used to treat borderline personality disorder, also seems to help reduce self-injury. DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches patients skills to cope with and change unhealthy behaviors.”


Are You a Caregiver or Partner or Family Member, Friend learning to cope with or deal with extreme behavior?! Does your loved one need to learn better, healthy, positive coping strategies for stress, emotional distress and problems?! Are you suffering from heartache, heartbreak, shattering circumstances as caregiver and partner?! Get some help and support asap (from trusted sources).

elmer.Creative Commons License photo credit: samantha celera

From my personal learning experiences, I found superglue in spirituality. Hoping you find some superglue, too! (If you don’t mind, I’ll be sharing some glue in my posts.) Can’t help but think about all the healing that happens when people generously share “good” things!

THANK YOU to ALL who have shared Good Things with me & my family!!🙂

Please Continue reading about Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Part 2…THANKS!:) 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Denis Dore Photography
Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk
Creative Commons License photo credit: cedartree_13

photo-misty-forest-in-a-rays-of-sun available at Shutterstock
photo-cracked-pink-glasses-isolated-on-a-white-background available at Shutterstock photo-loving-heart-romantic-puzzle-love-isolated-characters.html Available at Shutterstock; edited by Chato Stewart

Caregiving & Coping with Disturbing Behavior: Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Joan Winifred

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APA Reference
Winifred, J. (2013). Caregiving & Coping with Disturbing Behavior: Non-Suicidal Self-Injury. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 27 May 2013
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