“Learning to Be with Ourselves”


On Beyond Meds, Elisabeth Svanholmer uses the British Psychological Society’s Understanding Psychosis report as a starting point for discussing her own explorations of the meaning and nature of “hearing, seeing and sensing things that others don’t, as well as having unusual beliefs.”

Svanholmer challenges the whole idea of trying to define one’s experiences in any framework at all, and compares “coming up with explanations” to “self-harming”.

“Since my early teens I have lived with strong urges to cut and self-harm,” writes Svanholmer. “There are times when the pain inside becomes so unbearable that all I want to do is grab an instrument and inflict injuries on myself – cut my skin, beat out bruises, break bones – because then the pain might become real, tangible, understandable and explainable. I can see where it hurts and I can tell myself why. And I can care for the wounds that are now visible.”

And then of self-analysis, Svanholmer writes, “So when I hear and feel things that scare me I grab my instrument of reason and analysis and I beat the experience into a shape I can understand. I turn to my arsenal of boxes and shove that voice, this sensation or overwhelming emotion into the box that looks the best fit. And I will get some peace for a while. I am on top of things again… But some of my experiences completely refuse to be defined by me. They scream as if I am hurting them by trying to explain them. They will change shape, size and content to elude my cognitive grasp on them.”

Learning to be with ourselves: a response to Understanding Psychosis (Beyond Meds, April 20, 2015)


  1. The phenomenology of suffering in Being and Nothingness reacts to the universal feature of resiliency, if you want to think of it in those terms. Sartre says we want our suffering to take material form as it affects us, to end up incarnating as it were a Mask of Grief for ourselves and others. His idea of our reason for this is that we notice that however great our suffering, to the degree that there is something left of ourselves after some loss, most noticeably in the case of some terrible loss that we can’t imagine how we prove to have survived at all, in the present moment the suffering itself the disappoints. We want the evidence infinitely to correlate with the absolute character of the loss suffered, inexorably. Something hurts, but objectively you could say, more than just for ourselves subjectively. So needing to add to the initial trauma that started the cycle of self-harm satisfies the real logic of some true coping strategy. Thankfully lots of folks grasp the necessity of that first step of showing acceptance intuitively, too, just not proportionately enough far-sighted innovators to change hospital and support group culture. You can throw that away.

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