Story about self-harm
I am 16, and I am stressed. I sometimes feel it is all getting too much…My parents, school, “friends”, memories from my past…And when I can’t take it any more I hurt myself…There’s something good about the pain: it makes me better for a bit…it makes me stop remembering, thinking…I feel I am in control…It eases the pressure inside me. Though the pleasure never lasts for long…afterwards I’m sad…I know that hurting myself is not helping me solve my problems but it’s the best I can do right now.
I don’t harm myself for attention…I worry that others will judge me…that people will look down on me. Those around me were very shocked about my self-harming at first, but now they are starting to understand me better and they know that I do this to get rid of pain but that I don’t want to die.
I sometimes read about self-harming online. I am somehow relieved knowing that others do it as well, that I’m not crazy and that my reasons for self-harming and my feelings when self-harming are the same as those of others who self-harm.
There is no shame in talking about hurting myself…. Deep down I know that by not keeping it a secret, I can learn better ways of dealing with problems….so maybe I can stop self-harming at some point.
Self-harm is a term used when someone injures or harms her/himself on purpose rather than by accident. Self-harm can be a way of coping with problems. It may help express feelings that can’t be put into words, distract the sufferer from their life, or release emotional pain.
Why do people self-harm?
- To get relief from overwhelming negative emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness or loneliness.
- To help them to feel ‘something’, when they would normally feel numb or ‘not really alive’
- Punish themselves – some young people carry a belief from past trauma or abuse that they are essentially ‘bad’ and need to be punished.
- Some have been feeling desperate about a problem and don’t know where to turn for help. They feel trapped and helpless. Self-injury helps them to feel more in control.
- Some experience feelings of anger or tension that get bottled up inside, until they feel like exploding. Self-injury helps to relieve the tension that they feel.
Possible myths about self-harm
Myth: People who self-injure are trying to get attention.
The painful truth is that people who self-harm generally do so in secret. People who self-harm often go to great lengths to cover up their injuries. The attention that self-harming does bring is often negative and doesn’t help to relieve distress. In fact, shame and fear can make it very difficult to ask for help.
Myth: People who self-injure are crazy and/or dangerous.
For some people who self-harm, self-harm is an outward expression of inner pain—pain that often has its roots in early life. There is often a connection between self-harm and childhood trauma. Self-harm may be your way of coping with feelings related to past abuse, flashbacks, negative feelings about their body, or other traumatic memories amongst other reasons. Slapping them with a “crazy” or “dangerous” label is neither accurate nor helpful.
Myth: People who self-injure want to die.
People who self-harm many times do not want to die. For many it’s a coping mechanism used to survive – not die. Just because people self-harm, it doesn’t mean that they are suffering from a severe mental illness, either. Although there is a relationship between self-harm and suicide, many more people self-harm than kill themselves – it’s the feelings behind the stress they want to get rid of. However, some people who self-harm also have suicidal feelings, or are not sure if they want to live or die as a result of an episode of self-harm. In addition, some forms of self-harm can lead to accidental death. For some it is also a way to have some control in their life, meaning that self-harm may be the only thing that they feel they have control over.
Myth: If the wounds aren’t bad, it’s not that serious.
The severity of people’s wounds has very little to do with how much they are suffering. Don’t assume that because the wounds or injuries are minor, there’s nothing to worry about.
Myth: People self-harm to fit in or be cool.
Young people self-harm in response to emotional distress. Thinking that somebody is burning or cutting themselves just to be cool is a little extreme. Even if somebody did do it once to fit in with mates at school, repeatedly continuing to hurt themselves shows that there is an underlying emotional problem that needs to be addressed.
Self Harm / Injury … What can I do?
Talk to someone
If possible, speak to someone you trust, call a friend, family member or a professional.
Think about ‘Strengths’
Think about your strengths – things you are good at. Everyone has things they are good at, sometimes we are just not aware of them.
What would your family say your strengths are?
Why do your friends like you?
What things have you achieved?
Keep an ‘Emotions diary’
Keeping a diary of your feelings can be helpful in a number of ways. By looking back at the diary, you might discover that there is a link between your life activities, your self-harm and how you felt. You might find that your feelings are stronger at certain times of day, or that they are not as frequent as you thought they were.
What feelings do you squash, bottle or swallow?
Self-harm is often considered to be a way of managing overwhelming feelings such as anger, frustration, despair or sadness. Sometimes it can feel like these intense feelings are so great that they will overflow like a volcano and this might be too much to handle. So, when we experience these feelings, we often try to find a way to manage them. Sometimes we might swallow our feelings or bottle them up in order to feel in control of them and some people may harm themselves to get relief. Can you identify those particular feelings that you try to squash or bottle up?
Think about the future
Another task that can help you think about whether you’re ready to change is to think about how things might be in the future if you still self-harm, and if you no longer self-harm.
It can sometimes be helpful to imagine someone (such as a best friend, sister, brother, etc.), and think, ‘If they had the same problem/thought, what would I say to them about how they were thinking?’
Try different options which are less harmful:
Squeeze an ice cube in the hand until it melts
Rip up paper
Have a cold shower
Drawing on the skin with red ink/paint
Eat strong flavoured food
Go for a run
Do something fun or creative, play relaxing music
Cuddle a pet or a teddy bear
Massage your neck, hands, and feet
Be aware of ‘Thinking pitfalls’
Thinking pitfalls or biases are unhelpful ways of thinking. Everyone makes these pitfalls, but when they happen regularly, they can make you feel bad and affect your behaviour.
There are many different types of thinking pitfalls, but there are five main ones to look out for are:
- Black-and-white thinking
Looking at things in an ‘all-or-nothing’ way. For example, someone who sees things as being either wonderful or terrible, total success or complete failure, etc., with nothing in between.
- Jumping to conclusions
Thinking that you know how someone else thinks or feels (‘mind-reading’) or thinking that you know what will happen (‘fortune-telling’). For example, not sitting a test because you ‘know’ you will fail or thinking that someone no longer likes you because they did not say hello.
Blowing things out of proportion, you can often spot these when there is an ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everyone’ or ‘no one’ in the thought. For example, getting a bad grade and thinking, ‘. Everyone else is better than me, I am never any good at anything.’
Giving yourself a hard time! ‘I must do better’, ‘I should be better’, ‘I ought to have known better’. These are often linked with over-generalisations ‘I should always . . .’, etc.
- Blaming yourself
When you feel responsible for things that are not your fault or that are beyond your control: ‘My dad left because of my behaviour’, ‘It is my fault that I got beaten up’, etc.
Don’t worry if some or all of the above sound familiar to you! They are pitfalls that everyone makes. Think about your thinking – which thinking pitfall or pitfalls do you generally fall into? Do you use one more than others? Do you combine different types of thinking pitfalls? When are you likely to use these thinking pitfalls?
Sometimes we are self-critical and we start to accept these thoughts as true facts. Checking these thoughts out, and challenging them, can help to stop them going round and round in our head. If we don’t challenge them, we can end up feeling worse.
How to help someone who is self-harming?
- Listen. People who self-harm often want to be listened to and to be understood. Many feel better after telling someone about their self-harming and to share their pain with.
- Take it seriously. It is important that all attempts of suicide or deliberate self-harm are taken seriously. Don’t ignore it.
- Try to reassure the person that you understand that the self-harm is helping him or her to cope at the moment and you want to help. Try to work out together who is the best person to talk to.
Professional help for self-harm
You may also need the help and support of a trained professional to overcome the self-harm habits, so consider talking to a psychologist, counsellor or therapist. A professional can help you to develop new coping techniques and strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you to get to the root of why you hurt yourselves.
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