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Self-Harm: There is Hope

Self-harm is one of the topics that have some people squirming in their seats when it comes up. It’s uncomfortable, scary and absolutely necessary to talk about. The myths surrounding self-harm are abundant and I believe that one of the reasons for this is because not many people want to talk about it, but that fact is that many people are experiencing it. 

Self-harm does not discriminate; it can affect anyone from any age, race, gender or background, and it is not specific to people with a diagnosis of mental illness. However, studies have shown that there are people who fall into a higher risk category for self-harm. 

  • Young people between the ages of 15-25 years old 
  • Gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals 
  • People experiencing drug or alcohol problems 
  • People living in an institution such as a prison or secure facility 

Why People Self-Harm 

There are countless reasons as to why people self-harm, just as there are countless reasons as to why some people turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Here are just a few of those reasons: 

  • Turning emotional pain into physical pain 
  • Intense feelings of pain or distress 
  • Feelings of numbness 
  • Feeling out of control 
  • Pressure from work or school 
  • Bullying 
  • Confusion about sexuality
  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse
  • Flashbacks or painful memories

Common Methods of Self-Harm

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Scratching
  • Pulling hair
  • Hitting self
  • Taking pills
  • Inserting objects into body

Myths About Self-Harm

  • MYTH: It’s an attempt at suicide.
  • FACT: In most cases self-harm is used as a coping mechanism, however some people may hurt themselves more than they actually intended to which can lead to death. People who self-harm do often fall into a higher risk category for attempted suicide in the future but this does not mean that the actual act of self-harm at the time it occurred was intended to end their lives. 
  • MYTH: Self-harm is just attention seeking behaviour.
  • FACT: In most cases the people who self-harm go to great lengths to hide what they’re doing and the resulting physical wounds and scars. Guilt and shame go hand in hand with self-harm and when we see images on the internet of people “sharing” their photos of wounds or scars we assume that they are indeed looking for attention when they could in fact be saying, “I need help, here’s the proof,” yet they can’t find a way to say those words out loud.
  • MYTH: If the wounds aren’t “bad enough” self-harm isn’t a big deal
  • FACT: The severity of the injuries have nothing to do with the pain that someone is feeling.

How to Help Someone Who Is Self-Harming

If you suspect someone that you know is harming themselves; ask them, if they aren’t doing it they won’t start because you asked them about it. Never accuse, ask. If someone leaves their wounds visible, chances are they want you to ask them, they may find it difficult to open up and start the conversation. 

Understand that you cannot fix them, nor can you tell them to stop and expect them to do so, ultimatums will not work. You can liken that to telling someone with depression to just, “snap out of it.” But, you can encourage them to seek help from a professional and to keep talking about it. Try to get them to open up about how they are feeling and what it is that is going on in their life that is leading to them using self-harm as a coping mechanism, reassure them that you are there to listen. They may not be ready to receive help or treatment at first, and that’s okay too, you’ve opened the door to communication and lifted the secrecy. Secrets lose their power in the light. Be supportive never be judgmental. Look past the wounds and see the person, and try to understand that not only is recovery from self-harm a very long road but relapse is common as well. Educating yourself on self-harm will benefit you as well as the person you are supporting.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

It will be distressing, shocking and terribly upsetting if you find out that someone you love is harming themselves. If you’re a parent of a child who is harming themselves you may have feelings that you have failed as a parent, this is not true. Talk to someone, whether that is a professional, pastor or a trusted friend. 

Alternatives to Self-Harm

  • Write your feelings down and then tear them up. Feelings come and go and you don’t need to keep re-reading something that is upsetting or triggering.
  • Move around. Exercising or dancing releases endorphins in your brain that make you happy.
  • Run ice cubes down your arms or legs
  • Freeze an orange and then hold it in your fingertips for a brief time
  • Draw a picture of yourself and mark it where you want to hurt yourself.
  • Scream and yell out your frustrations
  • Throw some pillows around; punch them if you have to.
  • Color or paint, make it as pretty or ugly as you want.
  • Make something, anything. Fill a mason jar with colored water and glitter; shake it when you’re stressed.
  • Ask for help, it’s a hard thing to do but also one of the bravest and strongest.

Where to Go For Help

Don’t give up on yourself; you’re worth fighting for. There are rehabilitation facilities out there that can help you find healthy coping mechanisms. Talk to others who have gone through the same things that you are. It’s a relief to realize that you aren’t alone and that someone else understands. Hearing the stories of people who have overcome self-harm can be encouraging and uplifting. You have to make a commitment to helping yourself, but understand that relapse is real and doesn’t mean that you have failed or can’t stop for good. You must face the emotions, or lack of them, responsible for you choosing these behaviours, and that can be scary. The help of a therapist or doctor can help you with this. That is nothing to be ashamed of.

Resources

Learn More

  • The Butterfly Project - for preventing a relapse
  • selfinjury.com
  • selfmutilatorsanonymous.org
  • sioutreach.org

US Treatment Centers

Canada Treatment Centers

UK Treatment Centers

 

 

Comments

This is so true after reading the varipus reasons I self harm yes Im seeking someone to trust and open up with but instead I will drink or use drugs to cover up my real feeling. I have also had history of strokes and skull fracture so I get confused but the bipolar has never left me and now I thank you cause I need to address the issues I have been avoiding.

You mention that there are rehab facilities out there to help. Can you please tell me where? I have tried many times unsuccessfully to get help for my daughter. I have read many many websites and made many calls all to get a rather standardised response about accessing services, eligibility, target clients.. ...etc etc all the usual rhetoric but when it comes to actual help or therapy or treatment NOTHING. Apparently due to her dual or multi diagnosis and ...let's face it ....diagnosis is not an exact science ... she never seems to fit neatly into the parameters of any particular service and therefore is left for the most part untreated despite numerous hospital admissions. I would like to find an ACTUAL treatment facility that can help...other than the $20,000++ private places. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. Worried mother

Hello Dianne. My name is Nicole, I have been blogging with IBF for over a year now, I was the one who wrote this piece. I sent Heather some more info about treatment facilities to add to my article. Where are you specifically and i can research something suitable 9I hope ) for your daughter as well as some group for you.
Nicole

I started self harm when I was about 8, I was being sexually, physically and emotionally abused by my violent alcoholic father who threatened to kill me if I told anyone. Accidentally one day I hurt myself and realised the physical pain over rode the frustration, angry, confusion and other emotional pain. I then continued to try all sorts of self harm to get relief. I stopped self harm at age35 with a lot of work with a psychiatrist and psychologist but I am still tempted to self harm even now at age 48, life is better without self harm . I have learnt coping mechanisms and distractions for a better quality of life. Give it a try.

I started self harming at age 5. I had been sexually abused for a long time and I felt it happened because I was a bad person and I deserved to be hurt. Over the years I have had trauma of being raped at age 14. At first my self harm was hitting myself and leaving bruises Later in teens I became bulimic In my teens I started cutting and burning myself w cigarettes. No one ever noticed. Not my parents or school counselor. This continued into adulthood. I went they college and worked professional jobs and no one ever noticed my wounds or scars. Only when I was commited to a hospital by a therapist did anyone notice

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