Self harm refers to injuring oneself intentionally. It is often an outer expression of internal pain. Methods of self harm include; cutting, scratching, burning, hitting or punching yourself, banging your head on hard surfaces and sticking objects into your skin. Other forms of self harm can include binge drinking, recreational drug use, unsafe sex and driving recklessly.
Self harm is a way of dealing with distress and difficult emotions. It can help to feel a release from emotional pain and express your feelings when you might find it hard to put into words. This can provide a sense of relief for a short period of time. However these feelings often return and individuals can feel the urge to engage in self harm again.
Why do people self harm?
Often individuals who self harm are dealing with overwhelming emotional pain. They may be going through a tough time and have difficulty opening up to others. Self harm can be a way to cope with feelings such as sadness, grief, depression, emptiness, loneliness or numbness.
Individuals may feel a release of tension, feel more in control of themselves or their current situation or be punishing themselves for something that has happened. For those who feel numbness, self harm can be a way of being able to feel something again. Whatever the reason may be, there is help available if you want to stop.
Consequences of self harm
It’s important to know that self harm is a temporary solution. Relief is often short term and can be followed by feelings of guilt or shame. Self harm is an unhelpful way of dealing with difficult emotions and won’t solve the issue at hand. The consequence of self harm can lead to physical issues/injury, alcohol or drug addictions, major depression or suicide.
The best way to stop self harm is to speak to someone you trust about your experience. Although you might feel like a burden or that no one will understand, it is important to remember that professional help is available and counsellor are trained to help and support you.
How to stop self harming?
- Speak to someone you trust
As mentioned above, the best thing to do is to speak to someone. It can be a huge relief to get your emotions off your chest and let go of the tension you are carrying on your own. Deciding who to tell can be tricky. Consider those you trust most, feel supported and accepted by. This can be a close friend, family member, teacher or counsellor. Speaking to someone can help identify what is troubling you, what emotions you are struggling to deal with and provide some comfort and support for how to manage your current situation.
- Focus on your feelings
When talking to someone you trust about your experience, try to communicate the emotions you are noticing to help them understand what it is your feeling. Remember that you have control over what you feel comfortable sharing. Don’t feel pressured to show your injuries or answer difficult questions if you’re not ready to. If you’re anxious about talking face to face, consider calling, emailing or texting someone by letting them know you would like their support. Remember you are not a burden! Its okay to not be okay and your support system will want to help as best they can.
- Identify your triggers
To reduce your desire to self harm, consider the reasons why you do this. Emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, loneliness or emptiness could be the cause. By understanding what function self harm serves, you can then figure out alternative ways to get these needs met. Noticing your emotions might sound challenging or confronting. Keep in mind that emotions come and go. Acknowledging your emotions can be the first step in sitting with your distress and managing it rather than numbing or avoiding it.
- Try new coping skills
Once you have identified the function or triggers of your harm behaviour, you can consider the following alternatives to release tension and express your emotions in a safe way.
If you use harm to express pain and intense emotions you could try; journaling your emotions in a diary, writing down your negative emotions and ripping up paper, listening to music that expresses your emotion or painting/drawing your emotions.
If you use harm to calm yourself you could try; taking a warm bath or shower, sitting and playing with your pets, getting a massage/massaging your head or hands or listening to calming music
If you use harm to disconnect or to numb pain you could try; calling a friend, taking a cold shower, holding ice cubes or placing them on your body.
If you use harm to release anger/tension you could try; exercising (running, walking, jumping, punching bags), screaming or punching pillows, using stress balls, ripping paper, making loud noises such as using instruments or playing loud music.
Consider talking to a therapist such as a counsellor or psychologist if you are struggling with self harm. They can offer you a confidential space to discuss what you’re going through. Therapists will offer suggestions and techniques to manage self harm and get to the root of why you might be doing so. They can help to manage difficult emotions and most importantly to manage your safety.