Dealing with Self-Harm
Dealing with self-harm
Do you or someone close to you self-harm? This blog is designed to teach you about self-harm and can help you or someone close to you feel better without the need to cause harm to yourself.
Self-harm can be a way of dealing with difficult emotional pain and intense distress. It may even help people express feelings they can’t put into words let alone sit with and experience, it can help distract them from their life, and some say it helps release emotional pain. Normally after someone self-harms they’ll feel better for a little while, but then the painful feelings return and they’ll get the need to hurt themselves again.
Self-harm includes anything you do intentionally to injure yourself, some of the most common ways to self-harm include:
· Cutting or severely scratching your skin
· Burning or scalding yourself
· Hitting yourself or banging your head
· Punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects
· Sticking objects to your skin
· Intentionally preventing wounds from healing
· Swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects
These are the big signs of self-harm, yet self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting themselves such as putting themselves in danger by driving recklessly, binge drinking and excessively taking drugs, as well as having unsafe sex.
No matter how someone self-harms, injuring themselves is often the only way some people know how to:
· Cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage
· Express feelings that can’t be put into words or releasing the pain and tension felt inside
· To feel in control, relieve guilt, or punish yourself
· Distract you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
· Make you feel alive, or simply feel something especially when your feeling so emotionally numb
Consequences of self-harm
The relief that comes from cutting or self-harming is short lived and only temporary and will create far more problems than it solves. Self-harm is often followed by feelings like shame and guilt, meanwhile it stops people from learning about other more effective strategies for feeling better. Keeping the secret of self-harm is difficult and lonely, people may feel ashamed or think that no one understands, but hiding this and what you’re feeling is a heavy burden. In the end secrecy and guilt can start to affect relationships with family and friends and about how you feel about yourself.
Self-harmers can unintentionally hurt themselves beyond what they meant to. What starts as a simply cut or self-inflicted wound can become infected or the cut can be too deep causing you to cut an artery. Self-harm puts people at risk for bigger problems down the line, if people don’t learn to deal with emotional pain they can increase the risk of major depression as well as drug and alcohol addiction, and even suicide.
Self-harm can become quickly addictive, it may start off as an impulse or something someone does to feel more in control, but soon people could find cutting and self-harm is starting to control them and can turn into a compulsive behaviour that seems impossible to stop.
The bottom line to all of this is that cutting and self-harm will not help the underlying issues that make people want to hurt themselves in the first place. No matter how lonely, worthless, or trapped someone may be feeling right now, there are many other more effective ways to overcome the underlying issues that drive people to self-harm.
How to stop self-harm
If someone is ready to stop self-harming the best first step towards that is to confide in another person whether this be a family member or friend someone they can trust. It can be scary to open up about something someone has worked so hard to hide but it can be a huge relief to finally let go of your secret and share what you’re going through.
Deciding who to trust with such personal information can be difficult so it is best to choose someone you fully trust not to gossip and help you try to take control over your recovery. Put your trust in someone that makes you feel accepted and supported, this could be a friend, family member, teacher, counsellor, or relative. Sometimes its easier to talk to someone you don’t know so get in touch with the Samaritans who’s number is 116 123, everything you say to a Samaritan is fully confidential and they won’t be objective.
When talking about self-harm it is important to focus on your feelings instead of sharing detailed accounts of your self-harm behaviour, focus on the feelings and situations that lead to it. This helps the person you’re confiding in better understand where you’re coming from. It will also allow the person know why you’re telling them. It is also important to let the person you’re telling if you want advice and help from them or do you simply want to confine in someone so you can let go of the secret?
Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you’re too nervous to talk about it in person consider conversating over text, email, or a letter, although it is important you do follow up with a face to face conversation. Please do not feel pressured into sharing things you’re not ready to talk about and you do not have to show your injuries if you don’t feel confident in doing so and don’t answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
Give the person you’re talking to time to process what you’ve told them. It may be difficult for you to open up, but it also may be difficult for the person you’re talking with to process what you’re saying. Sometimes you might not like the way the person reacts. Remember that reactions such as shock, anger, and fear might come out, this is simply out of concern for you and they only want what is best for you. Their emotions may just be a reaction to how concerned they are about you. The better the person you’re talking to understands self-harm, the better they will be able to support you.
Talking about self-harm can be very stressful and bring up a lot of emotions, but do not feel discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It is uncomfortable to confront and change long term habits, but once you overcome these initial challenges you’ll start to feel better.
Identifying self-harm triggers
Having a thorough understanding of what triggers you to self-harm is a vital step towards recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves then you can learn other ways to get those needs met without self-harming and will therefore reduce your desire to self-harm. Self-harming is often a way of dealing with emotional pain so it’s a good idea to get an understanding of what feelings make you want to cut or hurt yourself? Sadness? Anxiety? Anger? Loneliness? Shame? Emptiness?
If you’re having a hard time pinpointing the feelings that trigger your urge to self-harm you’ll need to work on your emotional awareness. Emotional awareness means knowing and understanding what you are feeling and why and is the ability to identify and express your emotions and your actions. Feelings and emotions are important bits of information that our bodies give to us, but they do not have to result in actions like cutting or self-harming.
The idea of really paying attention to your feelings rather than numbing them or releasing them through self-harm might sound frightening to start with. You might feel scared that you’ll be overwhelmed or be suck with the pain. But the truth of the matter is that emotions come and go if you let them. If you don’t try to fight, judge, or beat yourself up over your emotions, you’ll soon find that it fades and get replaced by other emotions. It is only when you obsess over the feeling that it persists.
Finding new coping techniques
Self-harm is your way of dealing with unpleasant feelings and difficult situations. If you’re going to stop self-harming you’ll need to have alternative ways of coping so you can respond differently when you feel triggered and need to cut or harm yourself.
Here are some tips on how to express your pain and intense emotions without hurting yourself:
· Paint, draw, or scribble on yourself or on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
· Start a journal in which to express your feelings
· Compose a poem or song to express how you feel
· Write down any negative feelings and ten rip the paper up
· Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
If you self-harm to calm or soothe yourself, you should try:
· Taking a bath or hot shower
· Pet or cuddle with a dog or a cat
· Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
· Massage your neck, hands, and feet
· Listen to calming music
If you self-harm because you feel disconnected or numb, you could:
· Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm, sometimes its good just to have a general conversation)
· Take a cold shower
· Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
· Chew something with a very strong taste such as chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel
· Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
If you self-harm to release tension or vent anger, you could try:
· Exercise vigorously – run, jump rope, go to the gym, or hit a punching bag
· Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into a pillow
· Squeeze a stress bass or squish play-doh or clay
· Rip something up such as sheets of paper or a magazine
· Make some noise – play an instrument or bang on pots and pans
Substitutes for the cutting sensation:
· Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
· Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
· Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs, and snap them instead of cutting or hitting
Professional treatment for cutting and self-harm
The help and support of a professional trained therapist can help you work to overcome the cutting or self harming habit, so consider talking to a professional therapist. A therapist can help you develop new techniques and strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of the problem and finding out why you self-harm.
Remember self-harm does not occur in a vacuum, it exists in real life and is an outward expression of inner-pain that often has its roots in early life. More than likely there is a connection between self-harm and childhood trauma. Self-harm might be your way of coping with difficult feelings related to past abuse, flashbacks, negative feelings about your body, or other traumatic memories-even if you’re not fully consciously aware of the connection,