Self-harm: Inside and out

Self-harm:  Inside and out

When people hear the word “self- harm”, they usually associate it with the intentional physical self-harm behaviors such as cutting, burning, or skin picking, but the word itself suggests self-harm as anything that harms the self. So, it can be emotional as well as mental. Let’s start with a few questions here.

Have you ever tried to harm yourself?

Have you thought of hurting yourself lately? 

Are you ashamed of who you are?

Do you find yourself forgiving your toxic partner again and again although you know the relationship is affecting your mental health?

Has your body image issues become so uncontrollable that you harm yourself to get distracted?

Self-harm, defined as “self-injury or self-poisoning irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act” (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2004) is a context in which physical and emotional pain appear to be inextricably linked.

The main reason people harm themselves is to express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release emotional pain. Afterwards, you probably feel better—at least for a little while. But then the painful feelings return, and you feel the urge to hurt yourself again.

Self harm can be either intentional or unintentional and physical self harm and emotional self harm are interconnected. 

Self-harm:  physical vs emotional

There are different ways that people can harm themselves intentionally. They practice the behaviours such as

  • cutting
  • burning their skin,
  • punching or hitting themselves,
  • poisoning themselves with tablets,
  • misusing alcohol or drugs,
  • deliberately starving themselves (anorexia nervosa)
  • binge eating (bulimia nervosa)
  • excessively exercising.

It may also include ways of putting themselves in danger such as

  • driving recklessly,
  • binge drinking,
  • taking too many drugs,
  • having unsafe sex.

These are the unhealthy coping mechanisms individuals use to relieve stress and feel pleasure. They practice self-harm in order to release the emotions related to anger, sadness, neglect, pain, and frustration. 

If an individual has a past or current history of abuse, trauma, low self-esteem, family conflict, bullying,sexual identity conflicts etc, they may harm themselves in order to control their negative feelings. People often try to keep self-harm a secret because of shame.

There is an inner critic in all of us. We do criticize ourselves but if the criticisms are high then we are in danger.

“I am unable to maintain relationships or friendships”,

“Everybody hates me”,

“I am not good enough”.

People might hear these voices inside their heads constantly. Inner criticism is formed from childhood and emotional self- harm is tied to past events. The voices that they hear from their childhood to adolescence may lead to the emotional self harm. 

If a person has strict parents or elders who constantly drag them down or teachers who repeatedly tell them they are good at nothing then they start to have self doubts. 

If a person constantly jumps from one abusive relationship to the next, or chooses friends who are negative or unkind , they will continuously feel sabotaged and hurt.

The history of neglect, sexual abuse or a history of bullying can also lead to self harm. When they are neglected for years and they are told that they are not good enough they start to believe it and they constantly feel bad about themselves.

Reasons individuals engage in self-harm

 Here are some of the reasons individuals engage in self-harm:

  • To feel a sense of control
  • Express pain
  • As a distraction
  • As punishment
  • To feel pleasure

If the treatment is not done in the right time, emotional self-harm can potentially result in depression,mental health disorders,eating disorders, suicidal ideations, anxiety, physical self-harm, substance abuse disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How to know if your loved one is engaged in self-harm?

Some of the red flags that shows that your loved one is harming themselves are presented below:

  • You might see the wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
  • In order to hide those wounds or scars, the person might wear long sleeve clothes even in the hot weather.
  • You might see the sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives or  needles, or bottle caps, in the person’s belongings.
  • The person might have frequent accidents.
  • If the person spends most of the time alone , especially in the bathroom or bedroom , make sure to check them.
  • The person might isolate themselves and might get irritated easily.

Suicide risk

Although self-injury is not exactly a suicide attempt, it can increase the risk of suicide because of the emotional problems that trigger self-injury. And the pattern of damaging the body in times of distress can make suicide more likely.

How to stop self-harm?

  • Encourage self- awareness and understand your inner critic.
  • Replace the words of criticisms into encouragement.
  • Talk to a therapist.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term treatment approach that is very goal-oriented. It is regarded as the best therapy.
  • Take time to relax.
  • Understand that it is okay to feel bad.
  • Surround yourself with supportive, motivated and happy people.
  • Don’t hold grudges and forgive people. Forgiveness is not about the other person but it is about allowing yourself to let go of any negative feelings you have towards that individual.
  • Stay away from toxic relationships.
  • It is okay to help others, but make yourself a priority.

Talking about self- harm can be stressful. Encourage yourself to talk to your close ones. Keeping a secret might be easier than  communicating and dealing with your problems but once you pass through this situation you would start to feel better and you would realize how beautiful you are and how beautiful your life is.

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