Self harm is something that many people feel uncomfortable talking about. It’s not Fight Club… we can talk about it. Talking about it may be the first step in finding alternative ways to cope.
When we hear the term self-harm we often think about someone deliberately cutting themselves. We also often think about this being a teenage girl issue. My experience is that boys, girls, men and women from all walks of life turn to self-harming behaviours as a way to cope. Self harm isn’t just cutting but can range from not taking care of yourself, risky behaviour, binge drinking, smoking, drugs, scratching, burning, scalding, hitting or punching yourself or objects.
People self harm for many different reasons and in many different ways. One person’s experience is likely to be very different to another’s.
Self harming behaviours can be a way of trying to manage overwhelming emotions. Most of us know how to take care of a physical wound but emotional wounds can be more difficult to manage or soothe.
People who self harm have described using it as a way to express feelings, take control, release emotional pain, make them feel something other than numbness or even to punish themselves for some perceived wrong doing or expression of self-loathing.
People describe feeling some relief after harming themselves but this is only temporary before the urge to do it again returns. Any relief felt can also quickly be replaced by feelings of shame or guilt.
Whilst harming yourself may be a way of dealing with emotional distress that has worked for you previously it is not the only way to cope. Confiding in someone you trust can be a first important step in finding help and support to learn other ways of managing your distress. You may want to reach out to others but find yourself hiding away or covering up. Keeping this secret can make you feel isolated and lonely. You may be fearful of reactions from those around you or afraid of being dismissed as attention seeking.
My experience of working with and knowing people in my own life who have turned to self harm as a way to cope, is that they do need someone to see and understand how distressed they are.
Counselling can be that step taken to finding some understanding about why you are harming yourself, what the triggers and risk factors are for you and to explore alternative ways of dealing with emotional distress. I will not shy away from talking about this and will not tell you that you must stop. Whilst finding alternative ways to deal with distress we can discuss how you can keep yourself safe. Self harm can change to self care.
If you read this and would like to talk about your own self harming behaviours or those of your loved ones, I want to listen.