Few human behaviours are as misunderstood as self-harm.  Yet in society today we are reluctant to talk about it. It can feel to society at large that those who self-harm are detached almost emotionless. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Self-harm is most often done to avoid the way that we feel so when self-harming the person is usually very emotional and has nowhere to go with those feelings

self-harmThose who self-harm are often dealing with very difficult feelings. They feel isolated, alone, that they are not understood or listened too.  There is a sense of powerlessness and a lack of control and it is often this that can lead to self-harm.

Self-harm takes many forms, the best known is those who cut themselves with sharp objects, but other self-harmers will burn themselves, pull hair out, freeze body parts or break bones. It is important to realise that while those who are self-harming can be suicidal, self-harm is not a suicide attempt it is a coping mechanism, (albeit often a dangerous one). Self-harm can be addictive because there is a craving for the behaviour to get the release from the emotional pain, often the person lacks the control to prevent themselves and they will continue to do it even though they know (and feel) the negative consequences of the behaviour.

Getting help for self-harm

It can be one of the hardest things to do is to ask for help as there can be a huge weight of shame, guilt and self-loathing pressing down on you. It is easier not to ask for help.  Sometimes it’s easier to start with an anonymous helpline or a counsellor who is not going to judge you self-harm but who is going to listen to you. If you can, have someone in your life that you can open up to who can support you it will make stopping much easier.

One of the ways to cope with the desire to self-harm is to get to know your triggers. It may be a place or a situation; it may be a thought process. Knowing what triggers your self-harm is a good starting point.  The second half of this approach is to have a distracting behaviour, so when you feel the urge you can divert your energy into another activity: Make some food, organise something, scream into a pillow, draw on your arm with a red marker, listen to music or watch a movie or call a friend. Slowly you will break the cycle.

You need to get rid of the apparatus of self-harm. All your stashes need to go. Ideally you will ask a friend to get rid of them for you. While it can be hard, it adds a layer, preventing you going back to old behaviours. If you find yourself keeping something back “just in case” you need to really think about getting help to give up. Why do you need the safety net?

Giving up self-harm is difficult. It is difficult on two levels. First as an addictive activity your body is trying to get you to keep going to get that kick of endorphins to make the emotional pain go away for a while. But second you need to start to tackle the pain that lies underneath and talking to others is an important part of that process. Counselling is often a great way to achieve that difference.