There is a monster out there that will make you want to damage and hurt yourself.
It’s called Self-Harm.
Let’s see what professionals can tell us about this monster:
Self-Harm: direct injuring of body tissue. The most common form of self-harm is skin-cutting but self-harm also covers a wide range of behaviors including, but not limited to, burning, scratching, banging or hitting body parts, interfering with wound healing, hair-pulling and the ingestion of toxic substances or objects.
This monster often likes to pop up when you suffer from mental pain. It makes you hurt yourself to escape the mental torture NOT to get attention! People wouldn’t try to hide it if it was.
I have battled this monster myself every now and then. I am not ashamed to admit that.
Because battling a monster that hurts you so much inside that you would prefer physical pain above the mental pain is not something to be ashamed off.
No, I never have cut myself. You will find no scars on my body. But cutting is not the only way to harm yourself.
Understanding cutting and self-harm
Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. Injuring yourself is the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.
The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like slapping on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury. And it also creates its own problems.
When you battle this Monster.
Signs and symptoms of cutting and self-harm
Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself.
Some of the more common ways 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 into your skin
- intentionally preventing wounds from healing
- swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects
Self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge drinking, taking too many drugs, and having unsafe sex.
Help for cutting and self-harm step 1: Confide in someone
If you’re ready to get help for cutting or self-harm, the first step is to confide in another person. It can be scary to talk about the very thing you have worked so hard to hide, but it can also be a huge relief to finally let go of your secret and share what you’re going through.
Deciding whom you can trust with such personal information can be difficult. Choose someone who isn’t going to gossip or try to take control of your recovery. Ask yourself who in your life makes you feel accepted and supported. It could be a friend, teacher, religious leader, counselor, or relative. But you don’t necessarily have to choose someone you are close to.
Tips for talking about cutting and self-harm
Focus on your feelings. This can help the person you’re confiding in better understand where you’re coming from. It also helps to let the person know why you’re telling them. Do you want help or advice from them? Do you simply want another person to know so you can let go of the secret?
Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you’re too nervous to talk in person, consider starting off the conversation with an email or letter. Don’t feel pressured into sharing things you’re not ready to talk about. You don’t have to show the person your injuries or answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
Give the person time to process what you tell them. As difficult as it is for you to open up, it may also be difficult for the person you tell. Sometimes, you may not like the way the person reacts. Try to remember that reactions such as shock, anger, and fear come out of concern for you. It may help to print out this article for the people you choose to tell. The better they understand self-harm, the better able they’ll be to support you.
Talking about self-harm can be very stressful and bring up a lot of emotions. Don’t be discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It’s uncomfortable to confront and change long-standing habits. But once you get past these initial challenges, you’ll start to feel better.
Help for cutting and self-harm step 2: Figure out why you cut
Understanding why you cut or self-harm is a vital first step toward your recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves, you can learn other ways to get those needs met, which in turn can reduce your desire to hurt yourself.
Identify your self-harm triggers
Remember, self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. What feelings make you want to cut or hurt yourself? Sadness? Anger? Shame? Loneliness? Guilt? Emptiness?
Once you learn to recognize the feelings that trigger your need to self-injure, you can start developing healthier alternatives.
Help for cutting and self-harm step 3: Find new coping techniques
Self-harm is your way of dealing with feelings and difficult situations. So if you’re going to stop, you need to have alternative ways of coping in place so you can respond differently when you start to feel like cutting or hurting yourself.
If you cut to express pain and intense emotions
- Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
- Express your feelings in a journal
- Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
- Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
- Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
If you cut to calm and soothe yourself
- Take a bath or hot shower
- Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
- Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
- Massage your neck, hands, and feet
- Listen to calming music
If you cut because you feel disconnected and numb
- Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
- Take a cold shower
- Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
- Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel.
- Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
If you cut to release tension or vent anger
- Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
- Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
- Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
- Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
- Make some noise (play an instrument, 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
You may also need the help and support of a trained professional as you work to overcome the self-harm habit, so consider talking to a therapist. A therapist can help you develop new coping techniques and strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.
Finding the right therapist may take some time. It’s very important that the therapist you choose has experience treating both trauma and self-injury. But the quality of the relationship with your therapist is equally important. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, respected, or understood, find another therapist.
When someone you loves is battling this Monster.
Warning signs that a family member or friend is cutting or self-injuring
Because clothing can hide physical injuries, and inner turmoil can be covered up by a seemingly calm disposition, self-injury can be hard to detect. However, there are red flags you can look for.
- Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
- Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues.
- Sharp objects or cutting instruments in the person’s belongings.
- Frequent “accidents.”
- Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
- Needing to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
- Isolation and irritability.
Helping a friend or family member who cuts or self-harms
Perhaps you’ve noticed suspicious injuries on someone close to you, or that person has confided to you that he or she is cutting. Whatever the case may be, you may be feeling unsure of yourself. What should you say? How can you help?
- Deal with your own feelings. You may feel shocked, confused, or even disgusted by self-harming behaviors. Acknowledging your feelings is an important first step toward helping your loved one.
- Learn about the problem. The best way to overcome any discomfort or distaste you feel about self-harm is by learning about it.
- Don’t judge. Avoid judgmental comments and criticism, they’ll only make things worse. Remember, the self-harming person already feels ashamed and alone.
- Offer support, not ultimatums. It’s only natural to want to help, but threats, punishments, and ultimatums are counterproductive. Express your concern and let the person know that you’re available whenever he or she wants to talk or needs support.
- Encourage communication. Encourage your loved one to express whatever he or she is feeling, even if it’s something you might be uncomfortable with.
If the self-harmer is a family member, especially if it is your child, prepare yourself to address difficulties in the family. This is not about blame, but rather about learning ways of dealing with problems and communicating better that can help the whole family.
Don’t Judge, Just Care!
Lots of Love