March is self-harm awareness month, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little bit more about it. Self-harm, or self-injury, can include but is not limited to cutting, burning, scratching, pulling out hair, and punching oneself. Cutting is one of the most common forms of self-harm. It is a coping mechanism that often occurs when someone is trying to deal with underlying emotions, pain, trauma, and even feeling numb. Cutting can be a way of distracting oneself and reducing the pain of negative feelings and experiences, expressing emotions that are embarrassing or hard to share, and can be used as a form of self-control(1). Non-suicidal self-injury is common among people who have difficulty regulating their emotions, have low self-esteem, and who are inclined to be self-critical(2).
Self-injury does not automatically mean the person engaging in the behavior is suicidal, but there is a higher risk for suicidal ideation and acting on these thoughts(2). While cutting can be superficial, there is a risk of cutting too deep. One may misjudge the depth of the cut, even if they think they have it under control. There is also a possibility that someone who is engaging in cutting may start to test the limits and cut deeper than they normally would. When one cuts too deep, they are less likely to receive medical assistance due to shame or fear they may feel about someone finding out about their self-harm. This can create a potentially dangerous situation to be in.
Warning signs that someone is cutting can include scars, wearing long sleeves even in warmer weather, new cuts or injuries, negative self-talk, and isolation. There can be shame and regret associated with self-harm, and often the individual who is participating in this, especially when it comes to cutting, tries to cover it up and hide it from others. Sometimes people hide it and keep it a secret because they think they can overcome it on their own, and sometimes they are not ready to give it up.
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with self-harm, I want you to know that help is available, and recovery is possible. Therapy can help by finding safe alternative coping skills while addressing some of the underlying causes that may be triggering this way of coping. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and mindfulness coping skills can be helpful in overcoming self-harm(3). If you would like to know more about these types of therapy, please feel free to email or call me.
A note to those struggling:
Many people struggle with self-harm, so please know you are not alone. If you are ready to get help, please reach out. I know it may be scary to take the first step in getting help and support.I strive to provide a non-judgmental, safe place for you to talk about what may be going on while exploring solutions that will work for you. If you are not ready to reach out today, that’s okay. Consider writing about what is keeping you from taking this step. If you are in crisis, please call or text 988. You matter.
1: Mental Health America, https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/self-injury-cutting-self-harm-or-self-mutilation
2: National Institutes of Health,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4244874/