My experiences with self-harm
None of this post is based on facts, it is all from my own personal experiences. I’m not a mental health professional, I am just somebody who went through, and overcame, self-harm. I write about this over 12 years since it started, and over 5 years since it ended. I still remember my first experience with self-harm as if it had happened yesterday, it wasn’t a conscious decision of “I think I will try self-harm today”, I don’t think I even really knew what it was or that it existed at that point. I just remember feeling incredibly sad. It felt like an out-of-body experience the first time, like I was watching somebody else do it, I had no control over it, and that scared me more than the act itself. The fact that I wasn’t in control of what I was doing was terrifying, and afterwards I just cried a lot, not really knowing or understanding what had just happened to me.
After that first time it slowly became more frequent until it became a daily thing, a habit, as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth. Except nobody knew but me, it was my secret, my way of coping with everyday. I still didn’t understand why I did it, I just knew that it helped, so I kept doing it. Eventually it became a thing I looked forward to, in a way a smoker looks forward to the next cigarette, the thought of knowing it was coming got me through the day and helped keep the bad thoughts away. After a few months it started to scare me again, because the need to do it was increasing and I knew it couldn’t carry on, but I didn’t know how to stop it either. One night it got too much, and without really thinking about it I called my best friend and asked her to come over. I showed her my scars and cuts and told her what I had been doing, and that I was scared because I didn’t know why. That was the start of my very slow recovery.
What you think you know about self-harm
Doing it for attention – I know this was a common thought around self-harm, they just do it for attention, certainly in my case this was not true. Every time I cut I made sure I hid it from everyone. Doing it in places that are easily covered by clothes, wearing long sleeves, I was always so paranoid about someone noticing them and asking me about it. I felt such a sense of shame about it, I knew it wasn’t “normal”, I knew people would judge me badly. I was also afraid that if people knew, they would want me to stop doing it, which at the time was unthinkable for me. I’m sure in some cases of self-harmers it may well be a cry out for attention, for someone to notice that “Hey, I am not okay, please help me.” when they physically can’t say the words. But for me it was a very private thing.
Suicidal – It may be hard for someone to understand that self-harmers are in fact not suicidal. Self-harming is a coping mechanism, people self-harm because they want to live, they want things to get better. Self-harming makes the world seem a little more bearable to live in, if only temporarily. People that are suicidal don’t usually self-harm before they attempt suicide. The act of self-harming is in no way life threatening, it is in most cases, minor injuries. Most commonly, cuts made with razor blades, scissors or small knives. Sometimes it could be burns, scratching with nails, snapping rubber bands on the wrist, even getting piercings and tattoos. There are many different forms of self-harming, but mostly it will result in nothing that will need medical attention. If self-harming for someone develops into something more serious and they start to become suicidal, then the cuts will get deeper and self-harm will no longer help with the bad thoughts but instead make them worse. This is why it is so important for people to get help with stopping the self-harm before it turns from a coping mechanism into a possible way out. This obviously all depends on the persons circumstances, tragic life events for self-harmers usually result in suicidal tendencies.
Selfish – People may think that self-harmers are selfish, mostly in cases where family or friends are aware of them doing it, but the self-harm continues. A self-harmer telling someone who they self-harm is not a cure for them, it is a way of trying to make it stop. It will not stop overnight, whether the parents, siblings or best friends of the self-harmer know about it or not. Much like an alcoholic seeking help for their addiction, it will not stop suddenly, it will take time and there will be lapses. The self-harmer is not trying to hurt you by harming themselves, as much as it will hurt you to know that they do it. The fact that they have told you about it means that they want to get better and to stop.
Just stop doing it – Once again, for self-harmers, to just suddenly stop self-harming is not possible. It does become a daily addiction, a reliant way of making them feel better. Smokers are weaned off of cigarettes slowly, self-harmers need to stop harming gradually. A sudden complete stop or restriction can cause adverse effects and panic, making the whole matter a lot worse.
My message to self-harmers
First off, you are not alone. There are so many people dealing with this and feeling the way you do right now, and so many people who have overcome self-harm. You might feel right now that you won’t ever be able to stop, but you will. If you haven’t told anyone yet, find someone who you trust and tell them. Find the strength to go and see a doctor, they are not there to judge you, they are there to help you get better and you won’t be the first person they have helped with this. See a councillor and try to find out why you self-harm, once you figure that out it is much easier to take the next step in moving forward. If you already know why you’re self-harming, talking to a councillor can help you to deal with it better mentally. If you are a cutter, try replacing it with an elastic band on your wrist. You can wear it all the time and snap it whenever you need to, this helped me to stop cutting in the beginning. You will have lapses on the road to recovery, if you do have a lapse, do not beat yourself up about it. Take each day at a time and find people that you can talk to whenever you feel like you need to harm. Eventually you won’t be afraid of people seeing your scars, because you will know you’re getting better and your scars will be a reminder of how far you have come and how much of a stronger person you are. Also I am always here if you need someone to talk to: firstname.lastname@example.org
My message to people who know self-harmers
If you know someone who self-harms because they told you they do or you suspect they do, talk to them. If it is them that told you about it, that means they want your help and they want to talk to you about it. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, don’t treat them like a fragile glass ornament that may break at any moment. Encourage them to seek professional help, go with them to their appointments even if it just means sitting in the waiting room. If you are a parent of a self-harmer, please don’t try to fix it by hiding every sharp object in the house, this is not going to help and may end up causing panic and making things worse. The best thing you can do is to make sure they’re getting help, talk to them as often as you can without babying. They will still need their own space and won’t want to be under surveillance, so give them space. Let them know how much you care and how much they mean to you. As hard as it might be to find a positive approach, it is important that you talk to them positively, more negativity will make things worse. If it is someone you suspect of self-harming and you are worried, try asking them about it. Chances are they will deny it so just let them know you are always there for them to talk to about anything, and if they are self-harming, they will most likely take you up on your offer sooner or later.
Recovery for me was very hard, and I had plenty of lapses, but here I am over 5 years after my last self-harm and thankfully seem to be over the worst. Of course circumstances and life play a major part in any ones mental health, but changing my circumstances several times over the years, both positively and negatively impacted my self-harming patterns. Cut the shit people out of your life if you can, if it is your surroundings that upsets you then move. I still have plenty of other issues I am trying to work through, but thankfully now, self-harm isn’t one of them. When shit things happen now I have learnt to deal with them differently, I know now that in the long run, self-harm only does bad for your mental health and just isn’t worth it. My very faint scars that only I can notice now are a constant reminder for me of how far I have come.
Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress.
Sometimes when people self-harm, they feel on some level that they intend to die. Over half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.
However, the intention is more often to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension. Sometimes the reason is a mixture of both.
Self-harm can also be a cry for help.
Some people have also described self-harm as a way to:
- express something that is hard to put into words
- make experiences, thoughts or feelings that feel invisible into something visible
- change emotional pain into physical pain
- reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
- have a sense of being in control
- escape traumatic memories
- stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated (see dissociative disorders)
- create a reason to physically care for yourself
- express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking your own life
- communicate to other people who you are experiencing severe distress.
Remember, you deserve to get better. Your life matters.