When Pediatrics published the recent Self Harm Study some people seemed surprised and shocked at the number of college students who indicated they had participated in self-harm activities. I wasn't shocked or surprised and I don't think other self-harmers were either. Yes, you read that right. I said "other" self-harmers meaning I consider myself to be one of them.
If you are not in a safe place or have a history of self-harm and are easily triggered, I urge you not to read further. If you find yourself triggered by this post, please practice your behavior modification, call a friend, contact your treatment team or call a crisis line. There is a thread in the forum, here, where you can come and talk about self-harm. Crisis links and the links to information will also be included. You aren't alone and you don't have to be afraid. Stay safe.
I don't mean that I currently take part in self-harm activities, because I don't. I don't even feel an urge to do so anymore. I can remember the last time I felt the urge, it was just a few years ago and my family was in crisis. I took control, did what needed to be done to keep everyone safe and then collapsed. At that point, the idea flashed through my mind. Luckily, I am a recovered self-harmer and I have other coping mechanisms now. 30 years ago, I didn't.
It's difficult for people who have never experienced the feelings self-harm can bring to really understand. People immediately think the self-harmer has a death wish or is attempting suicide. That's generally not the case, though people who self-harm do often find themselves contemplating suicide or attempting suicide.
Even though it has been 30 years since the first time I cut, and a very, very long time since I last cut, it doesn't take much for me to go back to those feelings. I cut because it seemed like that was the only thing I could do to stay sane, to keep safe, to stop the pain I felt and to prevent other people from being hurt. I cut to regain control of emotions that were spiraling out of control. I cut to feel something NORMAL rather than the chaos in my head or the complete emptiness. It didn't seem like throwing a chair through the window of my algebra class was a good idea. Breaking down uncontrollably during gym also seemed like not a good choice. When you're 13 and those are the sorts of things you feel that you need to do, heading to a bathroom stall with an X-acto knife seems like a much better option.
In the few seconds that it took to make the cut, to focus on the very normal pain, to watch what happened and deal with the clean up, my head would clear and I could head back into the world and act almost normal, for awhile. Normalcy was all I was looking for. Cutting gave that to me... for awhile.
If you're hurting yourself, you need to talk to someone you trust. In fact, you probably need to talk to a lot of people you trust. Some people can stop by themselves, they can find safe ways of dealing with fear and pain and anger without help, but I haven't found many who can do it alone. There's no shame in asking for help. It's hard to talk to people about this; talking isn't a magic bullet that will instantly solve the problem. Please don't overlook those little tips and tricks you read about either. You know the ones; things like deep breathing and meditation and marking your arm with a marker rather than a blade. Those things do work but it takes time and practice and it takes support from other people.
If you think someone you care about is practicing self-harm, don't sit back and wait. Talk to a health professional about your concerns and then talk to the person you care about. Do your research, show compassion and support without judgment. Do not assume that in-patient treatment, or private therapy or group therapy or medication will solve these problems quickly. Overcoming self-harm takes time because the issues causing these behaviors take time to deal with, to understand, and to heal. It takes a lot of time.
Here are some links to information about self harm and to blogs and message boards dealing with this issue. If you have questions, please ask them. If you're afraid, please say so. The power of self-harm is in the secrecy behind it. Closeted behaviors are damaging. We all need to talk about this.
- Cornell: Self Harm, Teens, Internet Support
- Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurous Behavoir
- Secret Shame
- Dr Pat Farrell WebMD
- Self Harm Board WebMD
- Self Injury Board iVillage
- National Self Harm Network UK
- TRIGGER Diary of an Ex Cutter (single post live journal entries are very common)
- Possible TRIGGER Incurable Hippie
- TRIGGER Call Me Teapot
Daily Dose of Denise
Poster Credit: National Self Harm Network UK
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