dealing with self-injury
Posted June 14th, 2016 by AlgebraAddict
The first time I self-injured was in the seventh grade. I took a sharpened pencil and I scratched the skin on the top of my right wrist, until it bled a little bit. I never could have imagined how quickly pencils could and would be switched out for safety pins, scissors, and razor blades.
Chances are that if you have self-injured in the past, you’ve felt completely alone in your misery. No one understands. No one can help.
And it’s true, self-injuring is a very isolating behavior. There are few things harder than explaining to a non-cutter the kind of release cutting can give you. There are few situations more uncomfortable than being pressured into explaining why you do it when you yourself don’t even know the answer. Sometimes people want nothing to do with it, sometimes people want everything to do with it. People see it as something crazy, or something they are compelled to fix.
But here’s the hard truth—no one is going to fix you. You can’t even fix yourself, because you’re not broken. But you don’t have to be alone.
Why do I do it?
There are a lot of reasons why people self-injure. Maybe you know exactly why you do it, but you probably aren’t sure. I’ve made a short list of reasons people self-injure. Maybe you identify with one, maybe all of them, and maybe you’re a completely different category. Whatever the situation is, it can be helpful to try to understand what’s going on in your own head.
1. You feel numb, and you want to feel something; anything at all. Sometimes depression is acutely painful, and sometimes it’s just a hollow feeling of nothing at all. Physical pain is an easy fix for numbness.
2. You are in pain, and you want to make yourself numb. This is the opposite, but for some reason they’re not mutually exclusive. Self-injurious behaviors temporarily take away emotional pain, making it dangerously addictive.
3. You want to make the outside match the inside. Sometimes it feels like everything is collapsing inside of you, but you have no way to express that physically. You have no way to express the horrible ugliness you feel inside except on your own skin. It may feel wrong to look fine on the outside when inside you are falling apart.
4. A cry for help. This is a tricky one. It’s what a lot of people think of when you say “self-harm”, and so a lot of people who do self-injure will flip out and assure the world that no one would ever self-injure as a cry for help or as a message to other people. But that’s not real. When you feel that words can’t convey your pain to others, or maybe people don’t even believe you’re in pain at all, self-injury is an easy fix.
5. You’re bored. When you aren’t occupied, you become restless, and especially if self-injury has been an addiction in the past, it’s easy to fall back into it. This is just as valid as any other reason, just to be clear.
6. You’re anxious. As strange as it sounds, self-injury can be a calming sensation. You feel like it takes away your worries and gives you something more important to focus on.
7. Scars. This is also a tricky one. When I self-injured in the eighth and ninth grades, scars were one of the reasons I did it. Permanent evidence of pain seemed really appealing. I’ve heard that they are a deterring concept for some cutters, but unfortunately they can also be a motivation.
8. The high. It’s not just all in your head. Cutting and other forms of self-injury are addictive because of hormones and chemicals your body produces. You may experience a euphoria-like state after self-injuring, or other effects associated with addictive drugs. As shameful as this may sound, self-injury is just as (or more) dangerous than any drug on the market.
Now it might seem like I just wrote a list of all the awesome benefits of self-injury. In reality, it is more of a list of perceived benefits. Keep that in mind.
So what’s so bad about it?
1. It’s dangerous. I know, you’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it before. It can seem trivial or stupid as a reason not to self-injure. And chances are you don’t honestly believe it. But, well, you should. Self-injury produces a physical and emotional high, but like many addictive drugs, the same “dose” of self-injury stops being so effective, so any harmless-seeming self-injury habit can easily lead to a worse and more dangerous form of it. You might not believe this, either, but you’re going to have to take my word for it—self-injury will only escalate and escalate. One night you are going to cut too deep, and you’ll promise that you’ll never go that deep again—but chances are, you will. Although I’ve never personally experienced it, from what I’ve heard, going to the hospital for self-inflicted injuries is just really horrible and degrading. Don’t let it get to that point.
2. It hurts friends/family. I don’t want to dwell on this because I want to avoid the guilt-tripping aspect of this, but it’s worth mentioning. All the awesome people that love you to death are going to be affected. If you don’t care enough about your own safety and health to stop, do it for them.
3. It burns time + energy. Self-injury will take up hours of your life if you let it. Hours you could spend reading a good book, learning to play piano, or writing angsty poetry. And it will sap energy from you; energy you could be putting into building and cherishing relationships.
4. It makes things worse, not better. Self-injury is a temporary relief from emotional distress. Some people drink their way out of break-ups, and although I personally thing self-injury is more dangerous and destructive than drinking, it’s the same idea. Every time you wake up in the morning with more marks on your skin, you will feel guilty. Every time people see them and flip out, you will feel guilty. Every time your friends try to help you stop and you screw it up anyway, you will feel more and more guilty. I don’t want to threaten anybody with guilt, but that’s the harsh truth. A combination of guilt, stress, and self-loathing can be all it takes to do it again. It will get worse and worse, and that will lead to worse depression and more serious injuries. In the end, self-injury can take your happiness, your relationships, or your life in the blink of an eye.
5. It’s isolating. I’ve touched on this a little bit. When you self-injure, you will tend to lie more and distance yourself from others to prevent them finding out. If they do find out, they could want to come uncomfortably close to the situation, resulting in you cutting them off. It’s also possible they could flip out and reject you because of your illness.
6. Scars. Seem strange that it’s on both lists? It is. I’ll discuss scars directly later, but the main thing about them is that they’re just really inconvenient. You get judged right out of the gate, before you open your mouth, and everything you say and do will be contrasted against this obvious truth that you have self-injured. You may present yourself as a happy, funny person and you still might be perceived skeptically because of your scars. It’s completely unfair, but people do make generalizations.
7. It’s hurting you, the beautiful, amazing, awesome person that makes you who you are. Your body is beautiful and self-injury is unfair to it. If someone was hurting a close friend or family member the way you hurt yourself, you would probably be upset by it because they are amazing and don’t deserve that. You don’t either. It can be hard to accept, but you deserve a really awesome life with cool people that love you—a life free from self-injury.
So this brings us to the reason you’re reading this (I hope). To stop. Of course there is no easy path to recovery; whatever you decide to try isn’t going to fix anything overnight. Recovering takes time and effort…What I’m trying to say here is that it’s just really damn hard.
Regardless, here are a few tips you can try.
1. Distractions. The idea of a distraction is this: there is a certain period of time where you are assailed by urges to self-injure, so instead of succumbing to those urges, you do something else until that period of time is over. You can “put off” your cutting or burning and instead resort to a distraction in the meantime. A distraction needs to be something that doesn’t trigger you or remind you of your urges to self-injure. It’s best if it’s calming or soothing to you. Some ideas:
a. Reading a good book (suggestions: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, or the Chronicles of Kazam, by Jasper Fford)
b. Doing homework
c. Aggressively doing dramatic makeup (this one is mainly for the more feminine of you, but if you want to give it a try, don’t let anything stop you!)
d. Talking to a friend on the phone. Do you have that one feel-good friend that always makes you crack a smile? You don’t need to talk about your problems if you don’t want to.
e. Listening to music (suggestions: the album Headspace, by Issues, the album Happiness, by Hurts, or the album True Colors, by Zedd)
f. Drawing on your skin (remember to use a sharpie or washable marker, as pens can hurt you if you draw too aggressively)
g. Take a bath (do not do this if there are razors or sharp objects in the bathroom)
2. Getting it all out. There’s usually a lot of pent-up emotion and frustration when the urge to self-injure surfaces. Here are some techniques for getting it out.
a. Cutting up a t shirt into a (let’s be honest, probably unwearable) slashed or braided tank top
b. Singing hella loud
c. Banging on a piano
d. Straight-up screaming
e. Cut paper snowflakes, or just shred paper
f. Destroy something you won’t get in trouble for
3. Expressing the pain. Sometimes you really do want to talk about your feelings or express them in a non-violent manner.
a. Call a friend and talk about what’s going on
b. Talk to a therapist
c. Write in a journal or diary
d. Write poetry about it
e. Write down every single thing you’re feeling
4. Substitutes. These are tricky because physically hurting yourself in any way is a bad thing, but if the only other option is to seriously self-injure, it might be better.
a. Draw lines on your body in red marker
b. Use red nail polish to streak your skin (make sure you have nail polish remover on hand)
c. Put band aids all over wherever you would have cut/burned
d. Take a freezing cold shower
e. Gently snap a hair tie against your wrist
f. Drink hot tea (do not burn your mouth)
g. Spin in a circle
h. Ride a rollercoaster
i. Swing high on playground swings
j. Breathe fast and deeply (think panting) until you get a little dizzy
I hope this was helpful. Please stay safe and never hesitate to reach out to your loved ones. You are very, very, loved.
Thanks for reading!
See more stories by Esther