Self harm is obviously destructive, but it serves many purposes for those who engage in it: it’s a way to make emotional pain physical and easier to deal with, it’s a way to force out some sort of feeling, it’s a way to calm down, it’s a way to bring themselves back to the here and now. And while harming may start as a quick way to find relief, it’s likely to become a habit: much like alcoholics and drug addicts, who find that they can evade feelings or thoughts by getting drunk or high, harmers do so because it brings temporary relief. The thing is, once someone learns it works, they may want to use it as a quick fix again and again, until they’ve managed to not deal with your feelings and problems at all, and may not even remember how.
Now that you know a little, here are a few more facts about self harm to ponder:
* Studies suggest that about 13 to 25 percent of teens and young adults surveyed in schools have some history of self-injury, even if they’ve only done it once or twice.
* The average age for people who self-harm is 14-16; but self harm habits affect people of all ages.
* Self harm frequently goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders.
Self harm is one of the most severe punishments: your mom can ground you, your coach can bench you, your teacher can fail you, your friends can be mad at you, but when we’re already our own worst critics, hating yourself goes above and beyond what’s healthy. Harmers often take events (a low grade on a test, an argument with a parent) and turn them into proof that, as a whole, they are “A Bad Person,” or a total failure.
Once someone is focused on harming herself or himself, it can be very hard to change mindsets, because the thought can be extremely consuming, and the desire for the action overwhelming. Because self harm is so addictive, it’s also really hard to stop doing. However? It’s totally possible to get help and recover from self harming habits. The key to avoiding self harm is to prepare to do anything else in its place before the thought to hurt yourself even occurs. Avoid situations that make you want to harm, if possible. Make a list of alternatives to harming yourself (call a friend, punch or yell into a pillow, listen to music that doesn’t make you feel mad or sad, write in a journal, watch a funny TV show, go for a run, throw ice cubes at the sidewalk, draw, anything that you find distracting). Keep that list handy. When you get upset with yourself, ask yourself questions about how realistic your thinking is: don’t generalize a single incident (say, forgetting to call your friend back or doing your homework incorrectly) into “I can’t do anything right.”
More than anything, when you feel like self harming, talk to someone you trust: a parent or other family member, a friend, a teacher, your school counselor. And if you’re the one a harmer is talking to, be patient. Expecting to change this person’s mind completely or stop the harming immediately isn’t going to happen. Be empathic. You can see the detriment self harm is causing, but your friend might not be able to–-yet. If you feel like you’re in over your head, it’s okay to suggest your friend may want to talk to an adult, or a therapist.
If you are harming yourself, remember that emotions are temporary – you may feel very bad right now, but it will pass – and that learning to deal with emotions is going to help you throughout your life, even though learning to look your pain in the eye is going to be a difficult process. You are worth more than you think, and you deserve help. Take a chance and reach out.
Do you know anyone who deals with self harm? What would you do if you found out a friend was hurting herself? Talk about it in the comments.