How does using Mindfulness as a tool, reduce self-harm
Self-harm is a deeply complex behaviour that is prevalent across the world and is often, pretty difficult to treat. So how can it be effectively treated with something as simple as mindfulness? In this article, I will look at using mindfulness as a toll and be explaining a little about one of the many and wide-ranging benefits of Mindfulness as a practice.
So firstly, what actually is Self-harm? Self-harm is a behaviour that can be characterised by the intentional and direct destruction of one’s own body without the immediate intention of ending one’s life. This last part is important, Self-harm does not carry an immediate desire to end one’s own life, here is where the distinction differs from an attempt at suicide. It is believed that individuals who engage in self-harm, do so, because they find it difficult to manage and express their emotions, which can lead to emotional dysregulation.
This emotional dysregulation can in some cases be combated by the individual using maladaptive coping strategies, like self-harm. It is widely believed that self-harm is commonly used as a coping mechanism for individuals who are experiencing an increasingly overwhelming level of negative emotions.
The prevalence of self-harm is a much more serious problem than most would expect. In fact, according to the UK’s office of national statistics, self-harm appears present at a societal level of around 400 in 100,000 individuals have utilised this as a coping strategy whilst in crisis.
One of the biggest issues with promoting the reduction of self-harm comes from our preconception of what it really is. Self-harm is regularly alienated to an extreme by the media and popular culture, turning the individuals who use it to cope, into social pariahs and outcasts, which only furthers their problems.
Furthermore, quite unbelievable, the act of self-harm in some areas of the world is still considered a criminal offense and therefore the individual who participates whilst in crisis, leaves themselves open to prosecution after the fact. Luckily this isn’t the case in the UK. Self-harm can be so effective in a crisis situation it can stand in the way of other positive behaviours becoming a central coping mechanism that may be more appropriate for long-term use. This is why self-harm is labeled as a maladaptive coping strategy.
Secondly, let’s talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a word most individuals will have come across through popular culture and the media, being featured heavily within yoga and other similar practices. Mindfulness can be described as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of our surroundings and not being overly reactive to our emotions. This is a human skill that we all possess yet some find it easier to access than others.
Mindfulness as a practice can be utilised in pretty much every day-to-day activity, literally from washing the dishes to walking to work. It can be done whilst participating in activities where we can focus solely on our surroundings and the activity at hand.
The way the water feels on your hands while cleaning a plate, the sound of the birds as they sing whilst you walk to work, both can be focused on entirely, creating a moment which is truly in the here and now. Most commonly, however, mindfulness is taught through focusing on your breathing, taking deep breaths, or breathing to a pattern set out previously. These mindful moments can be fleeting or if you’re more experienced, can be extended for longer periods of time.
Only until recently was the use of mindfulness as a treatment for self-harm still considered a novel approach, however, in recent times it has seen rapid growth of use within a clinical setting. As a body of research that is expanding all the time, it really can be highlighted just how effective mindfulness can be for a reduction in self-harm behaviours.
The main aim of this article was to show how mindfulness can effectively reduce self-harm. So how do the processes of Mindfulness actually do this?
The Six key components of mindfulness are believed to be one of the main ways self-harm can be reduced. These key components were suggested by Cameron et.al in 2012, and are as follows;
- The promotion of emotional regulation,
- Aid in toleration of distress,
- Reducing impulsivity,
- Promoting the acceptance of reality,
- Reducing dissociation
- Promoting acceptance.
These key factors promote our ability to process emotions as well as distress, leading to acceptance of ongoing experiences. This can allow us to withdraw from automatic judgments and reactions in order to respond in a healthier way to our current situation.
It is said that using mindfulness can allow us to more easily spot dysregulation within our behaviours, like the urge to self-harm, allowing us to choose a reaction that is more adaptive and appropriate to reduce the emotional tension or dysregulation that has built up.
Finally, using mindfulness can allow us to replace initial distraction techniques with more comprehensive coping mechanisms often featured in therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectic Behavioural Therapy.
So as explained above, focusing on the here and now can allow us to deal with our emotions more effectively, reducing the need for maladaptive coping mechanisms.
Being in the moment allows us to tackle our problems one at a time reducing the overwhelming effect that can be so devastating to our mental health. These simple practices really have been shown to have a dramatic impact on the reduction of self-harm behaviours.
If you or a loved one is currently engaging in self-harm and isn’t receiving the help needed, please contact your GP’s office as soon as possible to seek help.