Self-harm, or self-injury, can be difficult to think about. When we hear someone we care about is intentionally harming themselves, we might not be sure how to react. If it’s something we struggle with ourselves, we might feel too embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed to get help. But please know that getting help is so important and that you don't have to struggle alone.
Self-harm most often affects teens and young adults, but it can be a problem at any age, and it’s more common in females than males. Self-harm can include cutting with razor blades or glass, burning, scratching or hitting oneself, or even allowing yourself to be taken advantage of sexually.
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-harm means hurting yourself on purpose. It’s often confused with attempted suicide, but it’s actually the opposite. People don’t self-harm because they want to die. They do it because they don’t know how to cope with overwhelming emotions, and they’re trying to find a way to feel better.
Studies show that self-harm (physical pain) releases a different chemical response than emotional pain releases and can provide temporary relief from stress, anxiety and depression. In other words, physical pain distracts someone from emotional pain. But like any kind of addiction, the body can build a tolerance, and eventually, more physical pain is needed to supply the same level of emotional relief.
A person may self-harm to:
- gain control over difficult emotions
- stop feeling numb
- relieve stress
- regain control
- relive a trauma, and bring it to resolution
- protect loved ones from emotional trauma by dealing with an issue privately
Signs of Self-Harm
Most people who self-harm know they’re doing it even if they don’t understand why. But it’s often difficult to recognize self-harm in someone else because it’s usually done in private and the evidence is hidden. Here are some things to look for:
- wears concealing clothes (longs sleeves, long pants) even in hot weather
- wears hair scrunchies on their wrist
- has bruises, scars, bald patches
- seems accident-prone
- seems depressed
- seems emotionally erratic
- speaks of hopelessness
- shows signs of low self-worth
- gets defensive or lies if directly asked if they’re self-harming
How to Help
If you or someone you care about is self-harming, it’s important to remember that this habit is an attempt to cope with painful emotions. The best way to help yourself or someone else is to find the root problem and healthy ways to cope. This often requires professional counseling, but it’s also useful to talk about the problem with a trusted friend, family member, or clergyman.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here are some things to try in place of self-harm:
- Create a plan. A counselor or therapist can work together with you to make a plan of action when you feel the urge to self-harm. You can always tweak this plan. Different things work for different people. This can be something you keep personal or shared with your support system.
- Redirect the urge. Punch or scream into a pillow, tear up a newspaper or magazine, or pound the carpet or grass with your fists.
- Take a time-out. Breathe deeply. Relax in a hot bath. Meditate or pray.
- Express your feelings. Write, paint, or draw your emotions.
- Turn to music. Put on your favorite music. Listen or dance. Play an instrument.
- Exercise. Go for a walk, run, swim, or just get outside.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Substances often lower self-control and increase the risk of self-injury.
- Find a distraction. Watch TV. Read a book. Play a game. Call a friend. Leave the house.
- Go to a trusted person. Sometimes just not being alone can help. Share your feelings, and ask someone to sit with you until the urge passes.
If you find yourself or someone else in a situation where imminent danger is present, don’t hesitate to call 911 or go to a hospital. Whether it’s you or someone you know who’s involved in self-harm, help is available. You’re not alone. It’s important to talk about feelings and seek professional help. Amplified Life Counseling & Coaching is here for you.
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