What would make someone self-harm? Why would someone want to hurt themselves? The answers are complex. Today, B. shares her journey with self-harm.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m B. I’m from a city in the Midwest. I’m 16 and I enjoy musical theater and Ballroom dancing.
For those of us who don’t know, what does it mean to self-harm?
Self harming is intentional harming of one’s own body. This is most commonly cutting oneself, but can include scratching, biting, hitting, pulling hair, or burning. Personally, I cut myself, hit myself, and have occasionally pulled some hair out. It is usually done as some sort of coping mechanism, or sometimes for attention.
What are the biggest misconceptions about people who self-harm?
I think a major misconception about people who self-harm is that it is just affects a certain social group, maybe people who dress in dark clothes and do drugs. I know people from all walks of life, from stoners to cheerleaders to straight laced kids, who self-harm.
It’s also important to know that self-harm isn’t the same thing as a suicide attempt. I have never been officially suicidal, and the same is true of most my friends who self-harm. Many people seem to think that cutting wrists is an attempt at suicide, but it is not usually.
Another major misconception is that people who self-harm like pain. I hate pain. I’m a total wuss. I don’t cut myself because I “like” it. Very few people who self-harm like it.
Lastly, there is the “just doing it for attention” misconception. Most people who self-harm hide their scars, and will attempt to lie about their scars if seen. Additionally, people who are doing it for attention are clearly in extreme need of help.
When did you first begin to self-harm?
I’ve been hitting and scratching myself since I was young, so I feel it’s always been a part of me. When I was 13, three years ago almost to the day, was the first time I cut myself. I had been very distressed for a long time. I was very attached to a group of friends I was in, and I knew they had all gone to a movie without me. It wasn’t the first time I felt left out from them, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
That was a terrifying night. I called my friend (one of the problematic friends) and cried my eyes out to her. And that began a long pattern and what has become a three year habit.
What is going on in your life (and mind) when you do this?
That’s hard to answer. Its changed over time. There was a time, a few months after I started, that cutting was all I thought about. I would get urges that I would fight off, but after fighting off an urge, everything caused me to want to cut so bad, I felt I had no choice but to cut. I cut about twice a day for a while.
I was very lonely during that time. I was losing my friends, and simply failing at becoming a teenager.More recently, I’ve had a different pattern. I will go through periods of about 2 weeks where I will feel very strong urges to cut, which I will fight off. I have always felt lonely during such periods, usually feel stressed about school and home life, recently I’ve been stressed because of someone I liked romantically.
I also often feel that I have done something stupid and need to be punished. I will fight off strong urges until I get sick of it, and I cut myself. Up until a few months ago, I cut my forearms and wrists. I now cut my hip, because it is more discreet. I used to not care as much, but I am around children frequently now and am horrified at the thought of them seeing my scars.
How do you feel afterwards?
Self-harm provides an immediate release for me. It distracts me from what was bothering me, and has calmed me down before. I can think more clearly without obsessing over how much I want to cut. But then there’s the next day.
I feel incredibly stupid, often guilty. I was constantly paranoid walking around with scars on my wrists. Even now, I’m afraid someone will somehow see the scars on my hip. Whatever it was that was bothering me bothers me more, because after I cut, there is a visible, painful reminder on my body. Also, and I think this is very abnormal, I feel as though I have let my therapist down. So, overall, I feel immediately better, then eventually much worse.
Do your family/friends know about this? If so, how do they feel about it?
My mother is the only family member who knows. I know she’s concerned, but we hardly talk about it, which is how I prefer it. All of my closest friends know that I self-harm. They all have, too, and some still do.
My friends are compassionate and don’t judge me for my self-harm, because they know how it feels. That is more than I had when I started self-harming, and I am so thankful for them.
Have you sought treatment? If so, what sort of treatment has been prescribed? Is it working?
I see a therapist and attend group therapy with girls my age. The style of therapy my therapist uses most I’d dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, which is also what the group therapy is based on. I believe it is working. I have less urges to cut, and I am better at fighting those urges. I also feel that I am learning more about the root of my self-harming behavior, which is vital in fixing it.
How do you, yourself, feel about your self-harming habit?
That’s very difficult to answer. I wish I didn’t have to deal with the awful urges, and the pain, and the blood (I hate blood!). I wish I could just cope effectively. Self-harm is devastating, and it breaks my heart to know that my best friends have all gone through it.
But I wouldn’t trade my past experiences with it. I’ve learned and grown stronger from those awful experiences. One day I will be able to say I beat self-injury, and I will be stronger because of it.
What advice would you give to others who are struggling with this?
Seek therapy. Absolutely. I love therapy. You may have to try a few, but really, try. If that isn’t an option, surround yourself with good, compassionate people, and remember that the strength to get better is already inside you.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, B. Have any of you struggled with self-harm in the past? How did you get past it?
P.S. If you’re struggling with self-harm, text 741741 to be connected to trained crisis counselors.