The Truth About Self-harm — TW

tw-sign6The truth about self-harm… Where to begin? (BTW, there are tons of websites out there for support and information.)

I know that there are a lot of people that don’t understand it. My family is included in that lot. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know.

Self harm. You hear the word and you cringe, right? It’s not a nice subject, it’s not easy. It’s complex and can be hard to understand, especially if you are the bystander that happens to notice it.

That symbol that’s up there at the top, for those who don’t know, it means trigger warning. Why? Because this post contains triggers that might cause fixation. The fixation on SH, it happens. Just from words, you can start thinking about it, and experience that pull to actually do it.

It goes by many names: Self-harm (SH), Self-injury (SI), Deliberate Self-harm (DSH), Self-mutilation. There are several methods used to harm oneself. A common misconception would be that self-harm is solely cutting. It’s not.

SH includes, but is not limited to:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • self-poisoning
  • Alcohol/Substance abuse
  • Hair pulling
  • Biting
  • Punching/Bruising/Pinching oneself
  • Head Banging
  • Scratching
  • Picking (like picking at scabs) or interfering with a wound healing

Those are just a few, and you can see that they are pretty grizzly. Now, you might be thinking, “Why on earth would someone do that to themselves?”

There are a number of theories, made popular by those who don’t understand the issue, that are simply not true.

For instance:

  • “It’s an attention thing.”
  • “It’s a suicidal attempt gone wrong.”

Those assumptions are wrong.

If it were an attention thing, SH wouldn’t be done in private. It would be done in the eyes of others instead of in the shadows. It’s done alone, in hiding, and kept secret from so many.

If it were a true suicidal attempt, they probably would have succeeded. Granted, not everyone who tries to kill themselves succeeds.

The truth about SH. The scary truth: it can be addictive. Let me explain before you gasp in utter disdain. It can be addictive, I’m living proof. The reason for this phenomenon is scientifically explained. The chemicals that the brain releases can become addicting. Your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, and “feel good” chemicals. It feels good to cut. Why wouldn’t you keep doing it if it felt good?

Another truth, SH is a coping mechanism. Does that make it right? No, but that’s what it is there for. When you are so stressed out, so upset, so out of control, hurting yourself allows you to feel something. Anything. Some people are so numb, whether it’s from dealing with depression, emotional chaos, they want to FEEL. In my case, it was a control. I could control the pain, the way it felt. My life was out of control, I could at least control that.

SH isn’t about suicide, it’s about coping. However, SH could be the gateway into suicide. It could cause some very long lasting damage.

What are they trying to deal with? Pain, emotional pain brought on by abuse — verbal, mental, physical abuse, or bullying. It could be part of their illness. It could be due, in part, to low self esteem. Depression, anxiety, any mental disorder. Any disturbing events, things that should never happen, like sexual abuse…

SH isn’t the best choice for coping, but that doesn’t mean that those who do engage in SH should be looked down on. They need support and help and, most importantly, understanding.

It’s hard to support someone when you don’t know what is going on. It’s even harder when you don’t know how to respond to what’s going on.

First of all, people who engage in SH aren’t just going to come up and say “hey, I cut myself because of this, help me.” Chances are, if you happen to notice the “scratches” (I say that because the most common SH is cutting), you’re going to be met with a lie. “Oh, my cat got me.” “That’s where I got scratched by that bush in the backyard while I was mowing.” “My dog jumped up on me, and I haven’t trimmed her nails in a while.” How do you know that’s the truth? How can you tell if they are lying?

There’s a reason it’s hidden.

So, how can we stop it? By spreading awareness, by spreading love and support.

I have some alternatives to actually harming yourself, ones that won’t leave a scar:

  • Punch a pillow, it helps you release that energy.
  • Scream into a pillow, it helps because it’s a release.
  • Exercise, but not to excess
  • Take a walk.
  • Use a writing pen to mark where you would use a blade. Use a red pen, because it looks like the real thing, without actually harming yourself.
  • The Butterfly Project: 1. When you feel like you want to harm yourself, take a marker or a pen and draw a butterfly. 2. Name it after someone you love, or someone who wants you to get better.3. You have to let the butterfly fade naturally, no scrubbing it off. 4. If you cut before it fades, you’ve killed it. If you don’t cut, it lives on. 5. If you have more than one butterfly, and you cut, they all die. 6. Another person can draw it for you, these are extra special, so take good care of them. 7. Even if you don’t cut, you can draw a butterfly to show your support.
  • Holding ice against your skin
  • Go to this site You can cut the screen.
  • Draw on yourself with lipstick

If you know someone who suffers, don’t judge. Be a support. Let them know that they are not alone. You can’t just tell them to stop. They need help and love and support.

If you suffer, seek help. Find a friend who will listen, not to share the secret with them, but to find help. You have to want to get better, and I hope that you do.

I hope that with this post, you’re more understanding. You have a better picture of what is going on. It’s not an attention thing, it’s not suicide, and it’s not crazy. It happens more than you think. And there is hope and help.


About Preslee

I am diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Panic and Anxiety disorders, and PTSD. I write about my own personal experiences and thoughts.

Posted on May 3, 2013, in Mental Health, Support and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Jusd.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on ways to avoid self-harm. We found you from Facebook, and have followed you on Twitter. You have a wonderful voice and I hope that your words will lead others to a way out of the tunnel of self-harm. We appreciate your effort to speak up for mental health issues!

    • Thank you! I have dealt with self harm for years because of this, that, and the other…I wrote this so that my family could have a better understanding and so others could too. I think that it’s very misunderstood because it is such a tough subject. Thanks for the follow on Twitter 🙂

  1. Pingback: Explaining Without Explaining | Eros & Psyche

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