What is Self-Harm?

 15th Mar 2017

Many of us have preconceptions about self-harm, most likely helped along by troubled teens in soap operas like Eastenders and Hollyoaks.

The character is usually either an ‘Emo’ or being bullied in so way so begins cutting themselves as a way of ‘taking back control’.

Whilst cutting or abrading the skin is a form of self-harm it’s vital to the wellbeing of you (or someone you’re worried about) that you’re aware that other forms of self-harm exist.

Self-Harm Has Many Forms

The definition of self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with a difficult situation, coping with strong feelings or unpleasant memories.

It’s also really important to understand that not all self-harm looks the same, can inflict the same level of damage but is all serious.

Self-harm can the more familiar cutting or abrading oneself but can also include hitting yourself, hitting yourself against a wall or door, poisoning, burning, biting yourself or pulling hair. Even excessive exercising.

The list goes on but you get the idea. But if you are inflicting harm or putting yourself through pain on purpose this should be a cause for concern.

Being aware of the extent of harm is important too. It may surprise you to know that hitting/punching yourself in the head is actually considered a very serious form of self-harm because of the damage that can be inadvertently done to the brain.

But recognise that all forms of self-harm are serious. It’s not ‘just’ pulling hair or ‘just’ scratching your skin. All forms of self-harm are ‘real’ and being honest with yourself if the first step to getting the support you need.

Some individuals who self-harm say they feel better afterwards but in most cases the act of harm actually intensifies the feelings they are trying to control. It can also bring up other difficult emotions, worsening the situation.

The truth is some people may not realise they’re harming themselves in a literal sense. They may be aware that it hurts but not that they’re causing themselves physical and psychological harm.

They may also not know why they’re doing it. The challenge for the individual and those who support them is identifying the triggers whether it’s: the breakdown of a relationship, sexual orientation or gender confusion, bullying, low self-worth, anxiety, bereavement or high levels of work stress.

As with the kinds of self-harm, the causes are many and not always something that’s easy to fix.

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What Can You Do?

In the short term, try and identify the patterns or triggers. Figuring out what’s causing the urge to self-harm will help you to resist. If you can’t resist try to reflect on the series of events that unfolded.

This may allow you to deescalate situations or remove yourself from them altogether.

If you’re playing a video game and you find that you’re punching yourself on the leg every time someone kills your character, reflect on why you’re doing this, how the game is making you feel and how you feel after you’ve harmed yourself.

In the immediate instance, stop playing the game. Forget about your kill ratios or your level-ups and turn the game off and calm down. Identify what was making you angry enough to hurt yourself.

Long Term

The good news is that there is a lot of support for people of all mental health issues, including those with a history of self-harm; including self-harm support, CBT services and counselling.

Additionally try to be accepting of how you’re feeling. Attempting to control the uncontrollable just makes things worse. Admittedly, this could feel overwhelming and even scary but repression is why moments of self-harm can feel so intense.

Control in of itself is self-defeating as few things in life can truly be controlled. Managing your feelings is a subtle difference but with far healthier results.

Otherwise, your mind becomes the proverbial pressure cooker and every time you self-harm, it’s the equivalent of the cooker blowing its lid.

Focus instead on building up your self-esteem.

To some this may seem strange as they may not be aware that they have self-esteem issues. But look at it like this: if you value yourself, why would you harm yourself?

Train yourself to perceive yourself positively. Think (or say out loud if it’ll help) kindly about yourself. Recognise the things you do well rather than the things you don’t. Write it down if it will help.

Try reflective techniques and make changes in order to improve or maintain your mental health.

But most importantly of all, be honest with the people who love and support you. If you’re under some form of therapy, be honest about the self-harm, how often and how severe. They are trained to support you in managing this and reducing the instances.

Equally be compassionate to yourself. As with any challenge, there will be times when you slip up. Don’t add a mental beating to the physical one. Acknowledge that you gave in, reflect on why you did it and learn from it.

In the meantime, if we can offer advice or sign posting to help you with your mental health issues then please contact us today.

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