Self Harm

Self Harm

Self Harm

Do You Cut Yourself? You Aren’t Alone

Self-harm is more common than you might think. While it’s impossible to account for everyone who hurts themselves, statistics show that almost a quarter of 14-year-olds have self-harmed, with girls being in majority. Between 2011 and 2014 self-harming incidents of girls aged 13-16 increased by 68% and according to SelfharmUk 24% of boys aged 16-24 had previously used self-harm to cope. [1]

What Are The Potential Triggers?

The reason behind someone’s self-harming behaviour varies from person to person. A person might do it because they’re being bullied, to deal with low self-esteem, to manage anxiety, as a response to arguments with friends or difficulties at home, etc. Most people are dealing with several issues at the same time and cut themselves because it seems like the only option. According to findings from previous studies that looked at factors associated with self-harm, such individuals tend to experience more problems with family, school, friends and partners than those who don’t self-harm. [2]

What Is the Appeal Of Self-harm?

Loved ones of a person who cuts themselves often worry that self-harm is synonymous with a suicidal intent but that’s not always the case. It might be quite the opposite. Self-injury causes a body to release endorphins that reduce the perception of pain and have a calming effect, which can be pretty addictive. These chemicals might be what stops many young people from going a step further; self-mutilation has been identified as protection against suicide in previous studies. [3] However, there are more reasons behind self-harm than temporary relief.

When a person is in a lot of emotional pain, sometimes the only logical way to numb it might seem to be inducing physical pain. If you tend to self-harm when you feel overwhelmed, you already know that it can be a powerful distraction; it allows you to instantly shift your attention from what’s going on in your mind. You might use cutting to cope with anger, guilt, disappointment, shame, hurt as well as a response to negative thoughts. For example, some people tend to cut themselves when they become trapped in a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts, while others react spontaneously when negative emotions arise.

Other than silencing your emotions, self-harm can also feel good because it gives you an illusion of control. For some people, physical pain is the only pain they can control. Self-harm might also make you feel like you can switch your emotions off whenever they get too much, but in reality, that only makes you suppress them. While some people might wear their self-harm scars like a badge of honour and a sign they’ve survived many struggles, the real challenge is facing your emotions and working through them.

Even if you’re not dealing with a lot of intense emotions right now, you probably find it difficult to escape the pressure. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more sensitive, it just means it’s now more difficult than ever to meet the demands of modern life. You have to fulfil various roles that each come with their sets of expectations; you have to be a daughter/son, a classmate, a friend, a sibling, an employee, a partner… Add your expectations for yourself and you have a recipe for living under constant stress. Other aspects of modern life that can contribute to being under constant pressure are social media, more competition on the job market and beauty standards.

A lot of young people might self-harm as a response to a traumatic experience. You might believe you deserved whatever bad happened to you and injure yourself s as a form of punishment and a way of dealing with self-blame.

When you self-harm, you’re subconsciously trying to fulfil a need in an unhealthy way. For example, eating too much sugar might seem to lift your mood and feel good in a moment, but if done in excess it’s a sign of a bigger issue, just like cutting yourself. It might be that you’re dealing with emptiness and pain seems like the only way to feel more alive. Being devoid of emotions feels uncomfortable and as helpless as when you have to deal with negative emotions.

In some cases, self-harm feels good because it offers validation. If you feel lonely, sometimes all you want to is to be seen and self-harm scars might make people show sympathy towards you. This doesn’t mean you’re attention-seeking or fake being in pain, it simply means you’re trying to communicate how you’re feeling.

Self-harm is more complex than what’s on the surface, which is why it’s just a quick fix and not a long-term solution. For example, consider this scenario: you’ve just been dumped by a partner and you resort to cutting to deal with anger and hurt. While it might make you feel better in the moment, powerful even, it doesn’t change the reality and won’t make dealing with grief any easier in the long run. Additionally, the real reason might not be the breakup itself but the fact it triggered your insecurities and made you feel like you aren’t good enough. If you continue self-harming instead of looking for solutions, you aren’t allowing yourself to grow and work through underlying issues.

What Type of Therapy Can Help?

The only way to address underlying issues is to receive appropriate help from a trained therapist. If reducing self-harming behaviours is the main goal, there two the most effective therapies that you can consider:

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is a form of treatment designed for individuals who struggle with unhealthy coping skills. For this reason, it has been found to be effective in reducing self-harm behaviours. For example, a study from 2014 noted improvement at post-treatment and at 1-year follow-up. [4] DBT can help you manage difficult emotions and challenge thoughts that might contribute to your desire to hurt yourself.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another talking therapy that focuses on teaching you new coping mechanisms which allow you to process your emotions in a healthier way. CBT can help you understand the significance of your emotions and learn more about the way they might trigger your self-harming behaviours. Evidence from previous studies shows reduced self-harming behaviour at 6 months and then at 12 months follow up. [5]

Remember that it’s never too late to ask for professional help. Contact My Family Psychologist to discuss your options



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