Understanding Self-Harm

Self harm is very seldom understood by those not struggling with it. It may seem unnecessary or even counterproductive to those on the outside. Explaining the drive to self harm is just as difficult for those suffering from it. When talking with those that have self harmed, a common theme is that ‘it doesn’t hurt’. To help explain let’s put it in these terms- You have emotional pain and you have physical pain. For many, the emotional pain is too much to bear and they counteract it by causing physical pain. By doing this, the self harmer feels almost nothing.  Unfortunately, the more one self harms, the more guilt and shame they feel along with it.

For a person self harming, they may consider it a release or a way of expressing and dealing with deep seeded emotions, distresses and pain. It is considered a coping mechanism in many ways even if it is an extremely unhealthy one. Those that self harm often to not feel the pain associated with the action itself. Is has been said that there is a sense of calm or reprieve from that which causes the need to keep self harming.

Those that self harm often have a hard time expressing their emotions and have deep underlying feelings of fear and shame. By self harming, one may have a false sense of control over the world around them and hence themselves. Most people that self injure keep it a secret.  This secrecy becomes a heavy burden to carry and it often affects relationships. Eventually, one can feel trapped by this need to self harm and the need to live a lie to protect it.

For those of you with loved ones struggling with self harm, here are some myths and facts about self harm and cutting:

Myth: People that cut and self injure are trying to get attention.

Fact: Many that self harm do it in secret. They are not trying to manipulate or gain attention. Shame and fear can make it difficult for them to come forward and ask for help.

Myth: People who self injure are crazy and/or dangerous

Fact: Many suffer from depression, anxiety, or a previous trauma. Self injury is a coping skill and to label them as crazy isn’t accurate or helpful.

Myth: People that self injure want to die

Fact: Self injury is used to cope with pain, not a desire to die. It may be a coping skill to live longer, but those that self harm have a higher risk of suicide which is why it’s important to seek help.

Tips for talking about cutting and self harm

Focus your feelings: focus on the feelings or situation that lead to it instead of the self harm itself

Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable: You can use letters and emails at first but it is important to follow up with a face to face conversation. No pressure, share what you are comfortable with.

Give the person time to process what you tell them: As difficult as it is to open up, it may be difficult for the person you tell. Give them space and time to research and understand the problem a little better.

The next step for a self harmer is to understand why they feel the urge to do it and to identify the triggers. Helping to identify triggers is to be aware of the emotion that was being felt at the time they wanted to hurt themselves.

Next is to get in touch with those feelings that are triggering. It is a scary process to face these emotions and not have self harm to help cope. This is where we open new ground and find better and healthy coping skills. Coping skills are plentiful and waiting to be used by eager participants.

Help is out there in many forms. The demons that seem to control our worlds not longer deserve a seat at our table. It is possible to live a long, healthy, productive life even after having struggled with self harm. Reach out for the help that is deserved and seek to understand something that we may not have understood before.

By: Kiley Smith