Self harm is often misunderstood and is often a taboo subject – done in private and kept hidden.
However self harm is very common – we all do it to some degree at least some of the time.
Self harm includes a wide variety of behaviours –
The degree of harm is a factor of the degree of stress/distress.
There is not very much help out there, even less understanding and people who self harm can feel very alone and marginalised.
Self harm is a coping mechanism. It is a response to severe emotional pain that feels overwhelming. It can also be the infliction of physical pain in response to emotional numbness.
It is a way, for some people, of coping with severe emotional distress. People who self harm don’t want to die – for them it is a way of staying alive. It is often related to low self esteem, perfectionism (which can lead to low self esteem), or poor body image. Sexual, physical or emotional abuse, bullying or other past traumas may be a factor. It can be a way of disassociating from the emotional pain.
The body releases endogenous opioids (endorphins) in response to pain. This not only diminishes pain but also produces a mildly euphoric effect. Some people who self harm can develop an addiction to this.
Self harm is often associated with feelings of exclusion, disempowerment, feeling trapped or lack of control. It is no surprise that for such reasons self harm is rife amongst prison inmates for example. Even caged animals display self harming behaviour (banging their heads, chewing their paws, etc.) when they are confined in unsuitable, cramped environments where their needs cannot be met.
Some people find it helps to make a promise to themselves to engage in a chosen activity for 15 minutes (or 10 or even 5) as a distraction each time they feel like harming themselves. After this time you can still choose to do it but the impulse hopefully may have passed.
Make a plan for what you will do immediately when you feel like self harming. Any distracting activity can work well e.g. loud music, dancing, phoning a friend, a breathing technique, going for a run, running on the spot, aerobic excercise, whatever works for you.
Then do some activity that helps you relax, that you can perhaps switch off and lose yourself in. It can be anything – listening to calming music, some kind of art or craft, a puzzle book, writing down your thoughts, a favourite social media app, go for a walk, TV, etc.
HALT – Ask yourself are you:
H – hungry
A – angry,
L – lonely
T – tired.
If any of these apply, what else can you do?
Take good care of any injuries – that means making sure you have clean blades if cutting, a good supply of bandages, etc.
It is very important to tell someone if you have hurt yourself badly or taken an overdose. For example, If you are bleeding heavily or the cut is very deep; if you have a severe or large burn or if a wound has become infected you will need to get good medical attention as quickly as possible. If you are in any doubt phone your GP or ambulance service or go to A &E.
Who can you talk to? An caring and positive friend or family member, a helpline, a chatline.
If you are self harming and would like to talk to someone for advice and support, please call me – 0870907411.