Self harm why people do it. Why you should stop.

This is a heavy topic and it can be upsetting and potentially triggering to read information about how to self-harm. If you are feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might not want to today’s blog.

In my next article I will talking about the latest support service I have used (a service offered by the NHS in Wales and the charity Mind). In this blog to follow I touch on the reasons why I thought I needed some extra help and mention in the article self harm.

Self harm is such a big and scary subject my first thought was just to leave it out. Not mention it and avoid the conversation. But again I was reminded this is the dark side and just drives stigma. So I decided it was important to cover it in more detail before I post that blog. So here it is.

What is self harm?

Self harm comes in many shapes and sizes.

Most people jump to one thought when they hear self harm. The truth is self harm can take many forms. Overspending, eating too much or too little, taking drugs, drinking too much alcohol even exercise can become a form of self harm.

I am probably most familiar with the traditional form of causing physical pain and the over eating. I have definitely eaten to the point of feeling ill on more than one occasion.

As always lots of people will have different views these are just mine.

What was I feeling or thinking.

Covid definitely had an impact on my health even if I might have never caught it.

I was really struggling with the impacts of Covid. The lack of interaction with people, all the things I watched my wonderful girls miss out on every day, the number of times I had to tell them they couldn’t do something ‘because of the rules’, trying to explain why their friends still did things because they decided to break the rules. Worrying about Christmas and what was the right thing to do to protect people and also protect their well-being. It was getting a bit much.

I had a couple of weeks where most days I was putting on a happy face and beneath the surface I just felt down. Was not excited about things. Plodded through the day. Did not really want to talk to anyone. Could have easily just gone back to bed, pulled the covers over my head and pretended the world was not there. These feelings were very new for me. I generally am I very positive, happy person, ever the optimist and even with the anxiety I have suffered from I don’t recall really feeling depressed.

I managed to muddle my way onwards, forcing myself through the motions of the day, dressed, work, play with the kids, bed. But on two, maybe three occasions there was a stray thought that crossed my mind. I could just… maybe I would feel a little better if…

… being some form of minor self harm. I was not actively thinking about it. It was a thought that crossed my mind like so many others. There in a second gone as quickly. Almost the same as I’m thirsty or I have an itch. I did not act on the thoughts or pay them much attention but they did make me question why the thought even crossed my mind?

When have I self harmed in the past.

There have been only two short periods of my life that resulted in this risky and extreme coping mechanism. Once as a teenager. Gosh I had an awful lot on my plate, some of it the usual challenges most teenagers face, friends, boyfriends, school. Some of it far from usual. Continuing to struggle with my mums illness and the challenges of being in care (even though gratefully I had a lovely foster family).

And once in my early twenties when again I found myself in the depths of some difficult times. My dad struggling with his alcoholism and being made homeless. The calls from my little sister begging me to come and get her, to take her out of my dads house. But I had no where to take her. The abusive voice messages from my father swearing at me and being unfortunately very difficult.

At both these points in my life I turned to the this unhelpful behaviour. (I say unhelpful now but at the time it felt like it helped.)

Why did I self harm.

It made me feel strong and powerful.

I can’t remember the first time I did it. I can only assume the thought arose because of the example set by my mother. So why did I do it?

It was not a cry for help – Maybe for some people this is this case and if it is, take it seriously if someone has reached the stage of harming themselves to try and communicate how awful they are feeling you should help them.

For me I never told anyone about the self harm (at least not until long after the incident like I am telling you). I was always very discrete, I was even careful that I didn’t leave any lasting marks.

It was not a suicide wish – I was definitely not considering ending my life. It was not about that for me. There is some evidence to suggest self harm is linked in an increased risk of suicide. From my experience they are very separate things.

A way to feel – I think for me one element was it forced me to feel something. When really feeling depressed at times I don’t actually feel down I feel more dumb. Self harm would force me to feel something. It would ignite a spark of something. Sometimes just that spark even though a negative one was comforting to remind me I am still here and I can still feel.

A way to denote some control – I think this was a big one for me. When so much around me was spiralling out of control. When there was a line of people queuing up to iliscite there ounce of pain I wanted some element of control. Self harm was something I could do that no one could stop me doing. Something to dictate my own suffering.

A way to distract from other pain – This was different to the needing to feel something. I imagine this need was much like when a woman in labour uses a tense machine on her back. This was about distracting myself from the emotional pain by focusing on the physical pain.

When I self harmed I felt the opposite of might you might suspect. In those moments I felt strong, resilient, alive and in control. I was taking back my feelings and owning the outcome. (Just in a very unhelpful way). And afterwards I would often feel more calm and determined.

Showing you care can make a real difference.

It can be a hard thing to identify. If you suspect someone you care about is self harming you can look for some of these things:

Physical signs of self harm.

  • Keeping themselves covered all the time, even if it’s hot.
  • Unexplained marks on their body.
  • Broken razor blades, stains on tissues or clothing.

Emotional Signs

  • A change in their mood tone of voice behaviour.
  • Being withdrawn, not speaking to others.
  • Other signs of depression not interested in doing things, declining invites, appearing down and tearful.
  • Low self esteem.

Not all of these things are absolutely a sign of self harm, but many of them even without self harm would warrant some extra support and care. So what can you do.

  • Listen without judgement, everyone’s reasons and feelings are different.
  • Give reassurance and information about services that they could reach out too.
  • Encourage them to seek professional support for example to speak to a GP or doctor.
  • Encourage them to seek other support from charities or groups that support those self harming.
  • Let them know you care about them and are there for them.
  • Let them maintain control about how they move forward.

A better approach.

I have learnt so much over the years which is why I guess last year when these fleeting thoughts crossed my mind I knew better than to act on them.

I questioned why I was feeling like this. Then I took lots of positive steps to tackle the cause.

I refocused on the things in life I could control.

I found some things I would enjoy and worked them into my day or week.

I amped up all my other tools.

I acknowledged my feelings and told my hubby how down I was feeling.

And ultimately I reached out for some help.

If you are self harming. Even if like me in my younger days you can find ways to justify why it is ok and it helps and it won’t harm anyone else. STOP. I promise you that there are better ways to address what you are going through. Ways that will empower you even more, bring you longer lasting rest bite, perhaps even bring you some lasting happiness. Self harm won’t do that. It is a short term fix for a long term problem and can escalate down a bad path. You have the power to chart a better course, to find a better way. But ultimately know you are wonderful and you deserve true happiness.

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