Self-Harm: A Statement of Coping

Talk of self-harm

Talk of self-harm

A blog I subscribe to sent me an email yesterday about a post written by a mother who’s son self-harms called “Self-Injury: The Silent Scream for Help” (full disclosure, I used to write for this blog a few years back). I was suddenly hit with a revelation that saying that self-harm is a “scream for help” potentially dismisses the purpose of self-harm, for some, as a legitimate coping mechanism.

Self-harm, namely cutting, has played multiple roles in my life since I first began the behaviour in late 2002. Cutting was how I showed that I was upset, how I punished myself, made myself feel better and it also served as a distraction. There were of course times when I hoped someone would notice, see that I was struggling and give me the help I needed so there is validity in using it to signal help. Cutting became my addiction and an extremely effective means of coping with sadness, anger, frustration, rejection and overall pain. For these reasons, I didn’t want help. I didn’t want to stop cutting. If I was screaming anything it was, “Leave me alone!”

Self-harm can be one tool in your toolbox. For some, the goal is to replace.

Self-harm is a legitimate way of coping with emotions for many. Those who do not engage in the behaviour may not understand that because cutting, burning or hitting yourself (a few examples) seem like very strange things to do in comparison to attending yoga, going for a jog or chatting with a friend in times of emotional need. We all cope differently.

I also don’t view self-harm to be that silent! It’s a very loud statement, boldly displayed on the body even if no one else sees it but you. You leave marks of your pain and coping on your body, some of which do not completely fade away. Sometimes, when I cut, I’m not screaming, I’m sighing with relief. That is why it became an effective coping strategy. There is also the assumption that those who self-harm want help or want help with that particular behaviour. I feel that wanting help is assumed because many view the behaviour as “all bad”. Self-harm can be a way that we help ourselves.

For me, cutting is something I still turn to in times of great emotional pain when I can’t think of other options. I do not see myself as “silently screaming for help” as I am actually very vocal about my needs. It has taken me a few years to work up to this point and I have gained a lot of new coping skills that I try and use first. Surprisingly, what helped me limit the cutting was those around me accepting that it was a tool l I had decided to use (if I even told them at all. You don’t always tell people you went for a walk to calm down so don’t always expect someone to tell you they self-harmed). Not being shamed for cutting helped my self-esteem and in combination with harm reduction I was taking care of myself. I don’t need help, I need a hug and a reminder that I did my best and I’m still awesome.

I am not pro self-harm in any way. Cutting has caused a great amount of pain in my life and has caused more than one friendship/relationship to end and has caused me to hide my body because of scarring. I accept it as a reality and I need to respect myself, show myself compassion and know that I was always doing what I believed was best for me.

This is why I sayΒ self-harming behaviour is NOT something that should be ignored or mocked but should be respected. By asking and acknowledging a person’s reasons for self-harm you can support them in engaging in the behaviour safely, limit the shame caused and help them find other ways to cope if that is where they are at in their journey.

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27 thoughts on “Self-Harm: A Statement of Coping

  1. I haven’t mentioned anything regarding this subject before but I feel the need now. When in college I had a very strong and aggressive girlfriend. At that time I was still learning about the possible strength about people and their limits. I’ve since done impressive things. That gf squatted 400 pounds and benched 200 while 135 pounds. I tried to break up from her but she didn’t allow me to and she broke things and tried to cut me. I didn’t react and try to harm her. What I did worked better. I slit my hand and blood let out the bathroom door and she assumed the blame. I also have been married once and in the infancy of dating she would look over me on aol. At the time I was coaching. So I’d get ims saying hi coachie and similar things. She’d demand who this and that one was. I refused one night and literally slit my hand for 30 minutes telling her to get out. She was so reluctant. It took that long. I know what it’s like to hurt yourself and have seen craziness with people who disregard it

  2. I love how you put the deepest of meaning in all you write; you dig deep into the truest of true and make some sense out of the unsenseable (yer right, it’s not a word), but you do. Thank you. Now what do we do about it? How do we respond and reach out to stranger who may need a help up?

  3. Thank you for this post. I think people so quickly jump to the conclusion the people who self-harm or have eating disorders are being dramatic or screaming for help or attention and do not take the time to look beneath the surface and consider what other function cutting, starving or purging may serve. Anorexia in my life years ago was similar to your experience with self-harm – A lot of people around me thought I was starving myself for attention and that I was begging for help but really I was punishing myself because I thought inherently bad and toxic, struggling to stay alive and cope with all the shame and self-hatred and sadness and anger and pain. Although it drew a lot of friends and family closer I also did not want help. Like you I wanted everyone to leave me alone. I desperately hope one day less of a stigma will exist and the public will be more informed about mental illness and

    • Thank you for sharing your experience and I am glad that you brought up eating disorders. One of my close friends struggles with an eating disorder and I know she could relate to what you are saying. I don’t think a lot of people realize that there is a “method to our madness”. I have also stood by my belief that if someone is using self-harming behaviours to be dramatic and get attention then they must be missing something in their life to feel they have to behave like that.

  4. Thanks for another great post, a topic I really don’t have experience in. It’s funny how even mental health professionals fall into this trap…I think a very dangerous trap. Would you mind if I reblog this? Maybe later in the month if that is ok.

  5. I too have engaged in self injurious behavior. I have not in 2 years. I appreciate you sharing your experience. I respect your views. I agree with so many of them. I can definitely agree that it was a coping mechanism for me, but cannot agree that my actions could be called legitimate. I used other “less than acceptable” coping mechanisms as well and they just don’t work anymore either.
    I too believe that every scar makes me who I am, but so does healing. I’ve got enough scars. I truly do not want anymore. As hard as it can be sometimes, It is time for me to love, feel, and respect my body.
    Thank you again for sharing your experience. I hope you do not mind that I shared a bit of my own.

    • I always enjoy hearing from others who share similar experiences. We are similar and different and I find that amazing! Healing does play a huge role in us developing who we are. We wouldn’t be healing if we weren’t growing as a person πŸ™‚ I like what you say about it being time for you to love, feel and respect your body. You do deserve those things! All of us do! Thank you for sharing!

      • I was a tad worried about how you would respond to my disagreeing with you. I should have known better than to worry like that. πŸ™‚ One very important lesson I have learned this year is that although we may be labeled the same thing as far as mental health issues, we are so very very different. The more we write. the more people learn that.
        I am having a little trouble with that love, feel, respect my body thing, but we are working on it

  6. Thank you for writing your view on cutting. I am always interested in others opinions on this topic. My son did use cutting as a coping skill, but he would often become overwhelmed with suicidal feelings while cutting that it became very dangerous for him. He has learned other healthier coping skills to deal with his depression and he no longer wants to harm himself. My article was from a parent’s perspective and focused on depression and being grateful that my son did something I could see, so that I could help him. I do agree that I should not have stated that everyone is screaming for help, that I can see is incorrect and I apologize. As a parent there is a feeling of hopelessness when you see your child struggling with some internal pain and you don’t see a way to help them. I hope you will look at my website and see that there is more to the story than just this one article. http://www.theresalarsen.com

    • I am grateful that you shared your story and have left a comment on my post! I know only a little about how difficult it must have been for my parents to see me go through my depression and self-harming behaviours. My post was in no way meant to critique yours as your experience is authentic and yours. I merely was sparked with a realization and I thank you for providing the post that allowed me to think things through.

      Self-harm can become dangerous. I remember being there. It fills me with such hope that your son no longer wants to self-harm and has found other outlets. I have found, for myself, that the passage of time has made self-harm less of an option but I would love to fast forward to when it no longer even enters my mind as an option.

      Thank you for speaking out for parents, who, as you mentioned often feel helpless. The more we all speak about self-harm the more we can change how people view it and can better support others.

    • I checked out your blog!

      Your books sounds great! The first few sentences on the back cover really resonated with me, “Psychiatrists come and go. Matthew’s reckless behavior stays.” I remember seeing that psychiatry wasn’t helping me made me feel worse about myself. But, like you and your son did, I just had to keep going. Thank you for being so honest!

  7. Thank you. I appreciate your positive comments about my book. It was difficult to write, but very therapeutic.
    Psychiatry is an interesting thing, if you find the right person it can be a positive experience. I don’t agree with just handing out meds without trying other options. I am a strong believer in overall wellness-nutrition, exercise, talk therapy, skills training, art, music-all of these things gives someone a better chance in the future. Sadly there are times when to get someone to a place where they can even try other things medication is needed. My son needed it when he had psychosis and he thought the only way “out” was to kill himself. When that is the case I’m for medication, but it does dull the person and makes them different, which can be very sad for the individual taking it and a parent who is watching.
    I hope your fast forward time when you don’t think about self-harm as an option goes by quickly.

    • For myself, learning skills and finding positive activities to do have been the most helpful. It is great that you educated yourself on the important issues and had a good relationship with your son πŸ™‚

      I wish you and your son the best! Thanks for putting your voice out there!

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