Self-harm. It’s a topic that’s not talked about, despite how common it is. I have friends who have self-harmed in the past, and I also have friends who are struggling with it now. The fact that they’ve done this doesn’t mean that they’re any less important or strong. There are all sorts of reasons that people turn to self-harm, and no reason should be pushed aside as “stupid” or be made to seem less valid than another. I am among the many who used to self-harm. I’m not exactly proud of that, but I’m also not completely ashamed of it either. I’m coming up on two and a half years clean soon. But recently I’ve been struggling with thoughts of self-harm. I haven’t acted on them yet. And I hope that I won’t. But if I do find myself coming close to engaging in self-harm behavior, I have people that I can talk to. People who aren’t going to judge me for thinking about that. And that’s important. When you want to hurt yourself, and they get upset with you for whatever reason, that can often push you even closer to self-harm, if not completely over the edge. Like I said before, there are multiple reasons that people self-harm:
- distract themselves, alter the focus of their attention, or regain control over their minds when experiencing pressing, unavoidable and overwhelming feelings or thoughts
- release tension associated with strong emotions or overwhelming thoughts
- feel something physical when they are otherwise dissociated and numb
- express themselves or communicate and/or document strong emotions they are feeling and cannot otherwise articulate
- punish themselves
- experience a temporary but intense feeling of euphoria that occurs in the immediate aftermath of self-harm
Notice that suicide is not on the list. That’s because suicide is usually not the goal. And another thing to remember is that most times, the self-harm is not for attention. That’s why those who do typically wear long sleeves or other things to hide the h=injury they inflicted upon themselves. I know I did. I didn’t want everyone to know what I was doing to myself; it was absolutely not for attention by any means. It was a way to distract myself from the drama going on in my life. It was a way to feel like I was in control of something as well. For several years, I continued to cope with everything by engaging in self-harm. Then in a conversation with a friend, I discovered alternative ways to cope, healthier ways, safer ways.
- draw on yourself with red marker, then take a shower and wash away your pain
- cuddle with a stuffed toy and cry
- paint your nails a new color
- write a letter to someone but never send it
- have a pillow fight with a wall
- color your hair
- work on a website or start a new one
- buy a henna tattoo kit
- pop bubble wrap
- drink a cup of herbal tea
- go to a friend’s house and open up
- re-arrange a room
- go to a public place and people watch
- take up kick-boxing
One of my favorite alternatives was drawing on myself with red marker. There was something I could see afterward, but no harm had been done. As time progressed, I found other ways to cope. I would play music really loud through my headphones. I tried escaping reality by finding a book to read. I put all my attention into something I was watching on Netflix. Then there were times that I would pull out a coloring book and colored pencils and focus on one pictures so that it would be “perfect” when I was finished with it. Sometimes I would reach out and text a friend, pretty much indirectly asking them to talk me out of it.
It’s been a couple years since the last time I self-harmed, but I still struggle with it today.