"Pain You Can See..."
A scar, a scab, a drop of blood - most of us see them as evidence of an accident. We might flinch, look away, hope they heal. But for others? The same physical signs can be expressions of an inner pain, and of a relief that seems impossible to obtain any other way.
American statistics estimate that 1% of the population self-harms or self-injures in some manner. These terms encompass a very wide range of behaviour. From chewing or picking at cuticles or scabs, through head-banging and hair-pulling, through cutting, all the way to more serious forms of self-mutilation. They're all the same impulse. And - to dispel another popular myth - they're not necessarily connected to suicide. Most self-injurers are not trying to kill themselves.
Some people think self-injury is a choice, just something overly dramatic people do for attention. But many self-injurers do so only in private, describing it as a compulsion - something they feel they have to do. It's more like a coping mechanism that helps them deal when their lives are falling apart and there doesn't seem to be another way out.
There are, of course, other ways out. Other ways to deal. But finding them isn't easy.
IF YOU SELF-HARM:
No one can make you stop. Except for you. If you ever feel powerless to stop, you're wrong. But you will need help. Please consider reaching out for it as soon as you possibly can. Talk to someone you trust to be supportive - a parent, a friend, a counsellor. Even if you don't feel ready to stop right at this moment, consider talking anyway. The support may be the extra push you need.
At a time that you feel safe, do some thinking about why you might be harming yourself. Consider what self-injury offers you and what pain it is covering up - working on this pain may reduce your urges.
- Eventually you will need to replace cutting with another way to cope. This is dangerous behaviour that can lead to infection, scarring, hospital stays. Next time you feel an urge, try doing something else. Listen to music, go for a run or walk, write in a journal. Some therapists also suggest replacing cutting with another sensation - you could try chewing on ice, drawing on your arms with markers, biting something strongly flavoured, taking a cold bath.
IF SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT SELF-HARMS:
Please don't judge or reject them. Recognize that this is a legitimate problem, not a bid for attention. Offer as much support as you can.
Encourage them to get help and to continue talking to you. Next time they feel like cutting, they might choose to have a conversation with you instead - provided you offer a safe, non-judgemental atmosphere.
If you're interested in reading more* :
* A special note - one concern with self-injury is the prospect of triggering. Triggering means that self-injurers may feel urges to harm themselves when reading about self-injury, particularly if they are looking at photos. PLEASE be aware of this tendency and read only when you are safe, perhaps choosing a more public place than your room.
S.A.F.E. Canada (Self Abuse Finally Ends) - http://www.safeincanada.ca/
Kids Help Phone's advice on 'Dealing With Strong Feelings' - http://www.kidshelp.sympatico.ca/en/resources/coping.asp
If you need to talk to someone about this or other problems in your life, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. It's a free call. You can also visit them online at kidshelp.sympatico.ca and check out their library of "Tools for Life".
Hope this will help somebody, eventually.