Self-harm or self injury 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 injury 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.
Understanding Self Injury
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 self injury 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.
If you, or someone you know needs help with self injury, please contact us.
Some people turn to this behavior when they have problems or painful feelings and haven’t found another way to cope or get relief.
Most of the time, people who cut themselves don’t talk about it or let others know they’re doing it. But sometimes they confide in a friend. Sometimes a friend might find out in another way.
Feelings when a friend is cutting
It can be upsetting to learn that a friend has been involved with self injury. You might feel confused or scared. You may feel sad or sorry that your friend is hurting herself in this way. You might even be mad — or feel like your friend has been hiding something from you. You might wonder what to say, whether to say anything at all or if there is anything you can do to help a friend who cuts.
It can help you to know more about cutting, why some people do it, and how they can stop. Sharing this information with your friend can be a caring act, and it might help her or him take the first step toward healing.
Things to Avoid with Self Injury
Here are things to avoid doing or saying:
Don’t deliver an ultimatum. The best thing friends can do is to be there for each other, accepting and supporting one another without judgment. Try to avoid issuing deadlines or ultimatums to people who self-injure (for example, don’t tell them you won’t be a friend if they don’t stop cutting). This strategy doesn’t work and it just puts pressure on everyone. Let your friend know that you’ll always be there to talk to.
Don’t accidentally reinforce the behavior. Among some people, cutting can have a certain mystique. If you’re concerned about a friend who cuts, don’t let your friend buy into the notion that the behavior is a sign of strength, rebellion, punk chic, or simply a part of his or her personal identity. Don’t reward drama with too much attention.
Don’t join in. A few people may try to get others to cut as a way to be part of the group or to seem cool. They might dare you or try to convince you to cut to see how it feels. Don’t let peer pressure pull you into doing something you know isn’t right for you. Someone who tries to pressure you probably isn’t a true friend after all.
How Important Is It to Help with Self Injury?
People who cut usually don’t intend to injure themselves severely and cutting isn’t usually a suicide attempt. Most of the people who cut themselves say they don’t mean to die and that they know when to stop.
But even when suicide is not the goal, cutting can still cause severe injury or death. People who self-injure risk infections, scarring, and shock (from blood loss), and they can die as a result of extreme injury or bad cuts that don’t get treated promptly.
Without help, people who cut also may continue to feel socially isolated and depressed. People who self-injure may have other problems (such as eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or severe depression) that require long-term professional care.
By helping a friend address cutting problems, you may open the door for him or her to resolve other issues, too. The first step to getting help is usually the hardest.
What If a Friend Rejects Help?
It’s often difficult to help a friend who cuts. You may not see changes overnight, if at all. Some people aren’t ready to face what they’re going through — and you can’t blame yourself for that.
Some people might not be ready to ask for or receive help with their troubles. You can encourage a friend to get help, but he or she might not open to the idea, at least not right away. You might need to be patient. Your friend could need time to think about what you’ve said.
People react in different ways when someone tries to help. But don’t be afraid to try. Sometimes, an honest concern is just what a person needs. By reaching out, you might just help a friend take the first step toward healing.
Sometimes when you try to help, your friend might be angry or say you don’t understand. Or the friend might really appreciate that you care but still not be ready to accept help.
It’s natural to feel helpless, worried, sad, or upset — especially if you feel you’re the only one who knows what your friend is going through. Sometimes it helps to confide in an adult you trust about the situation.
It can be really hard when a friend just won’t let you help. But don’t take on the burden as your own or feel responsible for someone else’s behavior. Sometimes even the truest friend may need to take a break from an intense situation. Be sure to care for yourself and don’t allow yourself to be drained or pulled down by your friend’s situation.