Why Do People Self-Harm?

The first time I engaged in self-harm, I was 11. I was severely bullied at school and lived in a toxic and dysfunctional household. I don’t remember how I learned about self-injurious behavior, I just remember deciding to cut myself. I did it once. Then twice. Then again and again. Every time I felt depressed or angry, I would harm myself. Over the years, it grew into an addiction and I felt like I couldn’t stop.

I tried to hide my scars from others but there were a few instances when people caught a glimpse of them. One time, my older brother saw them and instead of offering support, he called me weird. Another time, I was at school and one of my classmates saw my scars. He asked me if I cut myself and I lied and told him no. There was also a time during lunch when a boy was teasing me after he saw my arm. Feeling helpless and embarrassed, I reached across the table, dug my nails into him, and scratched the skin off his arm. He didn’t get in trouble for bullying me, but of course, I got in trouble for defending myself. 

For me, harming myself was either a way to feel something when I was numb or a way to physically express how I felt inside. It was a way for me to release my pain and anger. I also had a lot of self-hatred and I felt like I needed to punish myself.

Some people don’t understand how or why someone may want to harm themselves, in today’s post, we’ll look at why people self-harm. 

Common Types of Self-injury

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Scratching
  • Pulling out hair
  • Carving words or symbols into the skin
  • Hitting or punching oneself or hitting walls
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects
  • Picking at wounds
  • Exercising excessively
  • Over-eating or under-eating

Reasons Why People Self-harm

1. To Release

As I mentioned, I began self-harming as a way to release what I was feeling. Many people who self-harm hold onto intense emotions that they don’t know how to express in a safer way. Harming themselves is a way to express what’s difficult to put into words.

2. To Be In Control

Sometimes the issues we experience can make us feel like we have no control over our lives. A person may harm themselves to have a sense of being in control.

3. To Stop Feeling Numb

Another reason people self-harm is numbness. When we experience numbness, we pretty much feel nothing. Self-harming is a way to allow us to feel something. In a way, the pain we feel from harming ourselves is better than feeling nothing at all. 

4. Mental Illness

People with mental disorders like borderline personality disorder, PTSD, major depression, and eating disorders are prone to self-harm. 

5. To Punish Themselves

When I was dealing with self-hatred, cutting myself was a form of punishment. I was constantly made to feel like I was worthless and I internalized those messages. I felt like I deserved the pain associated with cutting. 

There are many reasons a person may choose to self-harm. If you know someone who is struggling, offer support and help them come up with alternatives to harming themselves.

Coping Strategies

  • The 15-minute rule – When you get the urge to self-harm, allot yourself 15 minutes before acting. Do something to distract yourself and when the 15 minutes pass, give yourself another 15 minutes. Keep doing this until the urge subsides. 
  • Be creative – Doing something creative is not only a great way to distract yourself, but it can also help you express your feelings. A few creative things you can do include writing, painting, drawing, and taking pictures. 
  • Do something to help you release tension – This can be something like exercising, squeezing a stress ball, tearing paper, or punching a pillow or punch bag.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling – Open up to someone you trust or reach out to a helpline.
  • Do something relaxing – Take a bath or shower, paint your nails, play with a pet, wrap yourself in a blanket and take a nap, watch TV, meditate, etc. 
  • Reason with yourself – On a piece of paper, write out what’s causing you to feel like you want to self-harm and why you want to stop. This may be easier to do when you’re not feeling the urge to self-harm. It can help to look back at this the next time you get the urge. 
  • Create a safe environment – If possible, get rid of anything that you might use to harm yourself with. If you live with other people, have them lock these things away. 
  • Learn to recognize your triggers – Even if you can’t always resist the urge to self-harm, it helps to learn your triggers. Learning your triggers can help you better understand what’s happening when the urge is present.
  • Seek treatment – Seeking treatment such as therapy can help long-term. A therapist will help get to the underlying issue as well as assist you in discovering healthier coping skills.  

It has been almost a year since I’ve harmed myself and to say I’m proud is an understatement. I never thought I’d be able to go more than a few months without hurting myself. I still have scars on my arms from cuts that were a little too deep. They serve as a reminder of where I once was and how far I’ve come. 

If you’re struggling with self-harm, it might feel like you’ll never be able to stop. I know that feeling all too well. It’s not that I haven’t had the urge to harm myself over the last year, it’s that I’m better equipped to handle those urges now. Instead of immediately doing something to hurt myself, I work through my feelings. 

If you’ve been self-harming for a while, stopping won’t be an overnight process. It’ll take time but with the right treatment and support, things will get better. 

Photo by Idy Tanndy: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-holding-cup-of-coffee-1886550/

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