Johnny Cash famously sang, I hurt myself today to see if I still bleed.
Well that was Johnny’s reason for self harm, but if you’re reading this as: someone who deliberately harms themselves, a loved one of a self harmer or a professional working with a client who self harms then I’m sure your aware the reasons are complex, contradicting and confusing. But let’s start this blog with the basics.
What is self harm?
I work on the premise that self harm is harm deliberately inflicted towards the individual by the individual without overt pressure from an external agent. Some of the different way in which people self harm are as follows:
- Cutting self
- Punching self
- Burning self
- Banging head off hard surfaces
- Drinking/eating hazardous materials
- Inserting sharp objects into the skin
I’m not going to include eating disorders, substance use and reckless behaviour because these issues deserve at least a whole separate blog each in the future.
Why do people self harm?
There isn’t a definitive answer to this million dollar question unfortunately. All you can do is look to the individual and encourage them to think about the function of their own self harm. However, some people say:
- “It stops the emotional pain.”
- “I feel real.”
- “The blood makes me forget everything.”
- “There’s something about it that helps me realise that I’m in control.”
- “If hurt myself I don’t feel suicidal.”
- “It’s a reward.”
Simply put self harm is a coping mechanism. For whatever reason this individual has decided on some level, the best way for him or her to get on in the world is to inflict injury on themselves. As a therapist I think of self harm as a vehicle my client uses to communicate something they feel can’t yet be put into words.
If you want to reduce and stop self harming
- Decide what you want to replace self harm with this is important. Choose something that’s cathartic, cognitively occupying and enjoyable. This will help combat any urges and give you a sense of achievement. E.g. Cooking, art work, poetry…
- Hold ice cubes to where you used to cut/burn this will still provide a very physical sensation minus breaking any skin.
- Snap an elastic band on your wrist again this won’t break your skin but provide you with a grounding safe shock.
- When you feel like self harming bite into a lemon to send a sharp, safe shock to your senses then go somewhere you would never self harm. E.g. For a walk in the park, to your next door neighbours, to your local shop…
- Speak to a therapist to support you a confidential space can help you explore the origins of your self harm and help you develop alternative coping strategies.
- If you are worried about the severity of any self inflicted injuries and believe you have cut too deep or burnt yourself badly seek medical attention immediately from your local A+E. Hospital staff see self harmers regularly and they can provide immediate advice and dress wounds and make referrals to appropriate services.