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Dealing with Self-Harm

Dealing with Self-Harm

Self-harm is purposely causing physical pain to one’s own body. The self-harm can take the form of cutting, or self-mutilation, or burning, hitting, puncturing and other self-injurious acts. To those who don’t suffer from the disorder, self-harm may be puzzling. How can a person deliberately hurt himself or herself?

Why Do They Do It

People harm or cut themselves for lots of reasons. They can be trying to escape their feelings, and they harm themselves to shift their focus away from other issues. They can be trying to deal with intense emotions such as anger, sadness or shame, and the physical pain seems to numb the emotional pain temporarily. Some people cut to feel physically what they are feeling emotionally—to make their emotional pain feel more real and to give it more meaning. But whatever the reason, to deliberately harm one’s own body is a sign someone is suffering.

Does It Really Help?

Self-mutilation and other forms of self-injury might seem to help cope with difficult emotions, but they don’t really improve things in the long run. This behavior just numbs or shifts attention from the bad feelings for the moment. Worse, it causes other problems. It can leave scars or lead to infection, and if the cuts are too deep they can cause serious damage. Self-harm gets in the way of learning healthier, more effective ways to cope with emotions. Over time it can become a bigger problem, just like an addiction.

What Can You Do To Stop?

If you have a friend who has hurt himself or herself on purpose more than once—or you’ve done it yourself and think you might do it again—you need to talk to someone about getting help. There are many mental health professionals who can help you learn how to stop injuring yourself and how to cope better with your emotions. No one has to deal with this kind of problem alone.

There are also ways you or your friend can help yourselves:

  • A first step is to become aware of situations in which you feel an urge to cut or self-harm. Try keeping a log of each time you’re tempted to harm yourself. Write down what was happening at the time and how you were feeling. By understanding the triggers for self-harm, you can begin to learn other ways to cope.
  • Alternatives to self-harm can include calling a friend, taking a hot bath or shower (no razors nearby!), writing in a journal or drawing about what you are feeling.
  • It may be helpful to find a private place to dance, tear pieces of paper, gently draw on yourself (with a nonpermanent marker or pen) or rub ice on your skin. You can also try some yoga postures or go for a walk.

S.A.F.E. Alternatives

Try this resource to learn more about self-harm and get yourself pointed in the right direction.

S.A.F.E. Alternatives® is a nationally recognized treatment approach, professional network and educational resource base, which is committed to helping you and others achieve an end to self-injurious behavior.

Call: 1-800-DON’T-CUT (1-800-366-8288)