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Self Harm

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm or self-injury is a term used to describe the act of deliberately hurting oneself without anyone else knowing. Self-harm is often used as a way of coping with difficult or distressing situations and feelings. Individuals who self-harm are often suffering from depression, anxiety or other underlying mental issues. Some people may self-harm only once, while others may do it repeatedly.

The most common form of self-harm in young people is cutting, but other types include punching or hitting oneself, picking the skin or sores, burning oneself or depriving oneself of something they need. People who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves, rather they use it as a way to cope with intense difficulties and distress.

“The relief that comes with self-harm is only temporary, the circumstances which make a person self-harm remain.”

Why do people self-harm?

According to beyondblue young people self-harm as a way to cope with feelings of intense pain, to counter feeling numb and to deal with distress or unbearable negative thoughts, memories or feelings. It is often used in an attempt to replace emotional pain with physical pain. Intense feelings of loneliness can also trigger people to self-harm, here it is said to make them feel more connected and real. Self-harm is also used as a way of self-punishment when a person feels guilt or shame.

As we have already touched on above, most young people use self-harm as a coping strategy, not as a way to commit suicide. BUT, if self-harm continues and becomes habit, they may be unable to stop which can lead to thoughts of feeling trapped, hopeless and suicidal. Individuals who self-harm are more likely to feel suicidal and attempt suicide than those who don’t.

Do you self-harm?

Firstly you should remember that self-harm is not a long term solution. While it may give you temporary relief it isn’t helping you to sort out the issues that are making you do it in the first place.

In order to start feeling better you need to make a decision that you no longer want to self-harm and that you want a more permanent solution to how you feel. This can be very hard and you might have some set-backs, but you can do it.

The next step is to create little goals that you can work towards, such as deciding who or how you are going to seek support. Support can be anything from talking to a friend or parent to seeking help from a professional or calling a helpline. Even though they may seem small, achieving these goals deserve celebration – so go on, take yourself out for a hot chocolate.

Some alternatives to Self-Harm.

Here are some suggestions from beyondblue that you can try to replace your self-harm with something actions less harmful;

  • Try holding an ice cube in your hands, or eating a hot chilli, both these actions cause discomfort but are less harmful to your health
  • Try wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you need to
  • Use a red pen to draw on areas you might normally cut
  • Go and do some exercise, run as fast as you can for as long as you can or try a class at a local gym to redirect your energy
  • You can also try scribbling with a red pen on paper
  • Try deep breathing or meditation exercises.  You can find guided meditation exercises like  at Smiling Mind.
  • Try and focus on something around you, something simple like a bug or a bird and see if it can distract you from you negative thoughts
  • Talk with someone
  • If you find it hard to remember these options, write them down or put them in your phone for the times you need them

It’s important to remember that finding new ways to cope with negative emotions can take time, sometimes these above strategies will work and sometimes they may not. It’s all part of the journey of discovering what works for you. In the meantime get support from places and people you feel comfortable and take part in activities you enjoy or find rewarding into your life to increase your well-being.

Where can I find some help and support?

Deciding that you want to seek help to stop self-harming is a huge step, as is the actual seeking of the support. Seeking support can be daunting as you might be worried about a person’s reaction when you tell them. Some people may be shocked or have difficulty understanding but this does not mean they will not support you, they may just need a little time to learn more and talk with you about how they can help. Also remember that you don’t need to tell them everything at once.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with a friend or family member you can always seek support from a doctor, counsellor or psychologist who can help you work through the issues and develop a plan to manage your difficult thoughts and feelings.

Another way to seek support is over the phone or online. You can call beyondblue and talk to someone immediately on 1300 22 4636, or chat or email them here. If it is an emergency don’t hesitate to call 000.

How can I help a friend who is self-harming?

If you think or are concerned that your friend is self-harming, talk to them. While it can be hard to bring it up at first, letting your friend know that you have noticed, that you are worried and that you want to help can be a huge support. If they do want to talk, listen without judgment, let them know that you are there for them and encourage them to seek help. If you need some help have a look at our post on supporting a friend with mental health issues.

Helping a friend through this kind of situation can be emotionally draining so it’s important to look after your own well-being too. Here are some tips to take care of yourself from beyondblue.

And finally, while it may seem pretty basic, we can’t stress enough the importance of eating well, being kind to yourself and exercising. While these actions won’t solve all our problems they will help us to gain a higher sense of self-worth, more stable moods and an increased level of wellbeing which together will make us feel happier both on the inside and out!

Most of the information in this post has come from beyondblue, check out their website for more detailed information and support resources.

Click here for a list of Support Services.