When I do a search for the term “self-harm” most of the results I get are from United Kingdom websites. I don’ know why. I also notice that most of the results relate to young-people and self-harm. That makes sense, since it appears to affect more kids than adults. So what self-injury or self-harm?
Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include:
• cutting or severely scratching your skin
• burning or scalding yourself
• hitting yourself or banging your head
• punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects
• sticking objects into your skin
• intentionally preventing wounds from healing
• swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects
Self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge drinking, taking too many drugs, and having unsafe sex.
Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. As counterintuitive as it may sound, the hurting makes the person feel better. In fact, they may feel like they have no choice. The physical injury is the only way they know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.
The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like slapping on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury. And it also creates its own problems.
Most people who self-injure, try to keep it secret. They have feelings of shame and guilt. It tends to be a taboo subject, that most people don’t understand.
Because clothing can hide physical injuries, and inner turmoil can be covered up by a seemingly calm disposition, self-injury can be hard to detect. However, there are red flags you can look for (but remember—you don’t have to be sure that you know what’s going on in order to reach out to someone you’re worried about):
• Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
• Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues.
• Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, glass shards, or bottle caps, in the person’s belongings.
• Frequent “accidents.” Someone who self-harms may claim to be clumsy or have many mishaps, in order to explain away injuries.
• Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
• Needing to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
• Isolation and irritability.
Although cutting can be a difficult pattern to break, it is possible. Getting
professional help to overcome the problem doesn’t mean that a person is
weak or crazy. Therapists and counselors are trained to help people discover
inner strengths that help them heal. These inner strengths can then be used
to cope with life’s other problems in a healthy way.