Yesterday I wrote about an incident of cutting I had with when I switched alters. I had the onerous task of telling my husband later on of the cutting knowing how much it would upset him and how angry he would be. Not angry at me but angry at the alter and the situation. I have no recollection of the cutting I never do. It is afterward when I feel the wetness of the blood on my arm some hours later or see a pool of blood on the floor that I realise something has happened.
We went to the hospital and the had the predictable three-hour wait at Emergency to be stitched. While waiting I received a beautiful text from a friend just saying “I love you”. It came at just the right time. I was feeling so low and awful about myself and the hurt I had caused my husband. It was fantastic to receive such a lovely text out of the blue from an old friend who has stuck by me throughout all this mental health debacle of Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder and the hell it has brought into my family’s lives.
After yesterdays article I received a lot of email correspondence about what exactly is self-harm.
Sometimes it can feel like life is just too hard, and problems can seem overwhelming and create intense emotional pain and distress.
In these situations, some people may think about hurting themselves as a way to manage or reduce these feelings. This can be very confusing and confronting for them and for the people who care about them.
Self-harm refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. It’s usually done in secret and on parts of the body that may not be seen by others. The most common type of self-harm is cutting, but there are many other ways of self-harming including burning or punching the body, or picking skin or sores.
Self-harm can be something that someone tries once, or it can become a habit as they search for relief from distress. The problem is that this relief is only temporary, and the underlying issues and emotional pain usually remain.
Why do people self-harm?
People harm themselves for a variety of reasons, which can sometimes be hard to put into words. Many people describe self-harm as a way of coping with intense pain, distress or unbearable negative feelings, thoughts or memories. Others self-harm to punish themselves due to feelings of guilt or shame, or to feel alive again. They are trying to change how they feel by replacing their emotional pain or pressure with physical pain. Some people harm themselves because they feel alone, and hurting themselves is the only way they feel real or connected.
However, the relief someone experiences after self-harming is only short term and at some point the difficult feelings or problems usually return. With the return of these feelings often comes an urge to self-harm again. This cycle of self-harm can be difficult to break.
Is there a link between self-harm and suicide?
For most young people self-harm is a coping mechanism, not a suicide attempt. However, young people who repeatedly self-harm may also begin to feel as though they can’t stop, and this may lead to feeling trapped, hopeless and suicidal.
People who self-harm are also more likely than the general population to feel suicidal and to attempt suicide. There’s also a chance they may hurt themselves more than they meant to, which increases their risk of accidental suicide.
How to talk about it
Finding out that a person you care about is hurting themselves can be pretty hard to hear. You might not feel able to talk about it with them, or you may worry that you’ll say the wrong thing. The main thing is to be honest and open about it and to help your friend address the issue.
Even though you might not understand why your friend is hurting themselves or feel really uncomfortable, it’s important to be calm and non-judgemental when you talk things through.
You may think that this is just about seeking attention, and dismiss its importance. However, it’s important to recognise that self-harm is often a way of saying “I’m not coping with what’s going on in my life, and this is what I do to cope”. People need find healthier, longer-term alternatives to help them cope with difficult emotions and problems.
I hope the above addresses some of your questions about self-harm. Essentially listening and talking are the key things you can do for someone who is self-harming.