True Story: I Self-Harm (trigger warning)

What would make someone self-harm? Why would someone want to hurt themselves? Click through for one woman's story (trigger warning)
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.

photo by Jake Melara // cc

18 Comments

Teleri

Oh, wow.. That totally could have been me. I thought "Yes" or "Same here" at nearly every sentence.. apart from the fact that I am 27 and didn't cut myself for three years now after cutting for nearly 10 years. The urge became less, but it never subsided completely. Sometimes when I'm very stressed out there will be a strong wish to do it, but since I'm afraid it all will start over again and all my therapy work will be lost, I try to fight it. Sometimes I catch myself stratching the back of my hand or doing something similar and I don't know if that will ever go away.
I think it's very good that your are attending therapy at such a young (st)age. I wish I had someone to help me get a therapist or supported me earlier on this way. I guess the longer the time you do it, the harder it gets to make it go away.
On the scars: I really had a lot of problems to show my forearms even after I stopped cutting. I wore long shirts even in the hottest days of summer, even at home for ten long years. It took a long time and a lot of baby steps (rolling up the sleeves at home, rolling them up among very good friends, and so on) to recognize that only few people really look that close at your skin. And if they do, well, it's a part of my life and they have to deal with it the same as I have to deal with it.

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Anonymous

As someone who has stopped burning herself almost 10 years ago, let me just assure you that, yes, you WILL be stronger because of it.

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Lisa

First, I'm sorry to read this and I hope you manage to find a different/better way to handle your pain. Best of luck on that journey! Second… and I don't want to sound callous here, this is a genuine question: what do you mean when you say "all your friends self harm"? I don't know anyone who does this, and you're surrounding yourself with girls who do it. Do you think being around them makes you more inclined to do it, like it's "just a thing girls my age do"? Do you think this is a kind of epidemic that's spreading among your age group as a way to handle stresses? I'm just concerned when I hear that you personally know several people who also do this. Again… just trying to wrap my head around this. I know it's not *contagious* behavior, but is there some subconscious part of you that sort of excuses the action because it's sort of accepted?

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Anonymous

Hi, I obviously can't answer for the interviewee, but might be able to offer some insight as a former teenage girl who cut and had friends who did, too. When I started, it wasn't something my friends and I ever talked about, so I wasn't aware if any of them did it (ie, I didn't start because they did it). I was distressed and one day I took it out on myself physically, on a whim, and then it went from there. Eventually I found out a couple of my friends (one 'real life' and one online) did it.

When I learned my friends did it, I felt less alone. Less weird, horrible, etc. I knew, and they did, that it wasn't a healthy thing to do, but none of us really knew how to stop at that point. We didn't encourage each other to cut, but we also didn't bomb each other with "OMG you have to stop, that is so bad, why would/could you possibly ever?" We were just quietly there for each other because that's what we needed — someone to know and not judge us. Someone to know things weren't ok.

As for whether or not self-harm is becoming epidemic, I will say probably not. There is more admission from self-harmers (either while going through it or after they stop) and more recognition from others. The thing with self-harm is that it can be very easy to hide depending on where on the body you inflict injury, so oftentimes more people do it than anyone would think, but now things are a bit easier to be open about, so it seems epidemic.

That being said, I think there is a lot for young people to be distressed over and as such there may be a rise in self-harming being used to cope. The world that my nephew's inhabit is so much different to the one I did 10 years ago. That's only a decade and yet the change has been so great. We know bullying has increased, for example, because it can be done through the internet, so some kids never get much of a break from it. Some kids will use self-harm as a way to cope with this and other issues. Those issues don't even need to be what most people would call severe. People cut because they have insufficient coping mechanisms that are healthy, no matter what the cause(s) of the distress are, no matter how 'small' a matter may seem to others.

Hope that helps! 🙂

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Anonymous

Thank you so much for this. I wasn't expecting a story on this subject to pop up this morning, and at first I thought 'oh, I should click away fast' because just thinking about self-harm makes me remember doing it, and I get sweaty and short of breath. But I read it, and I'm glad I did. I started harming myself in middle school. I am now 29 and it's been about 5 years since I last did it. I really empathize with your description of the experience, of the way it provides an immediate release from an overwhelmingly bad feeling. I still struggle with the guilt that comes after. My mom told me once that when she sees my scars she feels that I'm trying to hurt her or imply that she failed as a mother. Ever since she told me that I've worn long sleeves at home. So that's kind of hard.

One thing that has helped me is running. I've never been particularly athletic, but a few years ago I decided to try. I think that a really hard run (it doesn't have to be long) can kind of jolt me out of the downward spiral. There's an element of self-punishment to running, so I think that's where the overlap is for me. I would never say 'oh, don't self-harm, just go for a healthy run' because that is just wrong and not how it works. I got a lot of comments like that when I was a teenager, and they made me feel awful. I think that finding a good therapist is the first thing to do. And later on, finding activities to supplement the healing process can be good too.

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Sky

Yes. Yes. All of this. I related to every single word. I just came out of the psych hospital, which was not only because of my cutting because at that point, I was ready to die but I've been cutting since I was 13. For the exact same reasons you mentioned above and then some. It was never for attention, no matter what my parents thought, and I went a long way towards trying to hide it. It was a release, the physical pain immediately got my mind off of whatever emotional pain I was feeling. But then I would feel much worse afterwards, like I was even more worthless than before. Which of course triggered those feelings again. It's a nasty, vicious cycle.

Finding a good therapist is key – I found one I absolutely love and it's been so helpful. Also, never be afraid to seek help, especially if self-harm begins to lead towards suicidal thoughts.

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Anonymous

I got a tattoo (the meaning behind it is self-love and knowing my worth) where I used to do it, and I haven't done it since.

It gets better.

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Anonymous

I understand that it is certainly helpful to be able to be open about these things, particularly in a safe/anonymous place like the internet. I'm glad for a place where people can come together and share their experiences.
I just want to say–as someone who self-harmed off and on for a few years during my adolescence–that sometimes talking about these issues perpetuates the cycle by giving people ideas too. I feel certain that I never would have cut myself if I hadn't read about it online (back in the day, with Diaryland & Livejournal being the blogging platforms of choice for angsty emo teens). It became an outlet for my teen angst, one which I feel certain I never would have come up with on my own (even considering that I had suicidal thoughts at times, as well). I think what's particularly striking here is that the interviewee stated that all or most of her friends do it. This was not the case 10 years ago, and I feel nearly certain we have the internet to blame. I'm just concerned, is all.
All that said, YES it gets better. I wish the best for everyone who struggles with this; it's a truly dark place to be.

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Anonymous

This was good to read and sheds light on what it's like to go through. It also gives some insight into what it's like to cut as a teen living TODAY, in this particular world. It might be different now.

I started when I was 14 and continued for about a year or so (so, quite short relative to many others' experiences with it). I hid it well and the first time my mom found out was after the worst ones I'd ever inflicted and I'd just had enough of everything. I was taken to hospital to have the cuts looked at and that's when the ball got rolling with therapy. If I hadn't told her, I would have kept going. I cannot thank her enough for her fast actions and her comfort during what was an incredibly horrible time. Since then, I have cut only 2 times, one a couple of months after that incident and the last was about 3 years ago. I'm 25 now.

When I stopped, I didn't find it that hard because I think I was just so over it and ready to say goodbye to everything from the past. I thought of my family and how much I love them and how much I didn't want to hurt them through harming myself (they never made me feel like I would, though, they were always very supportive and kind). That being said, I still got urges for a long time (and obviously acted on those twice). I STILL get urges during times when I'm very upset, angry, and anxious at the same time, but have no desire to cut, if that makes sense. A part of my mind still goes back to what it wanted all those years ago, but the other part says "Nooo, thank you very much. I'll just cry now" or whatever. Therapy was very helpful, but I am by no means 'cured' of anxiety or depression, I still have anxiety much of the time and bouts of depression a few times a year. The difference is how I deal with them now vs. how I did then.

The shitty thing is that the scars never let you totally forget. The ones on my arm are noticeable to anyone who gets close enough. I find it really uncomfortable when I get blood tests, for example. But I don't cover up anymore because they are a part of me and from a time I am no longer ashamed of. No one ever asks anyway, except kids (and to them I say I was in an accident, etc).

I never really talk about any of this with anyone except my husband.

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Lisa Latebloom

Thank you so much for sharing your story, B. It's not an easy subject to discuss and I struggle with the problem, too. My self harm tendencies stem from bipolar disorder, so sometimes self harm can be seen as a cry for help for a larger problem. Now that I'm on medication and in therapy, the urges are less frequent.
I sincerely hope that sharing stories like this will help reduce the stigma faced by so many people who self harm and people with mental illnesses. It's something I talk openly about on my own blog, but I'd really like to thank Sarah for bringing us B's story on YandY. Information can often lead to understanding, in my book.
B, hang in there and know you aren't alone in the battle.

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Anonymous

I can totally understand people who self-harm (in any way) themselves as I did it myself and I still do it (psychologically – with a very low opinion about myself and having a lot of negative thoughts in my head). It is for some people their way to deal with stress and I wish everyone who does it would learn to relax more about whatever you feel the your issue is, but i know how hard it is to change one's approach to things and – for me – this seems to be one of the main problems.
I can only confirm what has been said before: doing sports will help you to feel better and more relaxed.

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Crafty Lulu

I cut myself all through my teens. I am now 23 and have been free of this for five years! I finally made a choice to be in control of my life and replace my urges to cut with something else. I found an amazing therapist at the university I was attending and faced a lot of past demons. I work at a mental hospital now where I learned DBT like B and have found that to be immensely helpful maintaining myself now. I got a "Love" tattoo on my wrist to remind me to love myself.

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Anonymous

It has been over a decade now, yet the scars are still very visible. I don't care. I'm not going to hide them in long sleeves constantly. I've joined the corporate world and am climbing my way up the later and sometimes I feel so awkward knowing that these marks are on my arms, for anyone to see and make assumptions. Sometimes I want to tell people when I first meet them that these are old marks. I'm 30 now. My life isn't like it was when I was still trying to figure the world out. They just won't fade away. But, mostly, I just forget that they are even there.
I wish that I had some great advice for you, some words that will take the pain away and make you want to stop. But I really don't. The world sucks sometimes. It's a cruel place sometimes. There are always going to be people and events that hurt. They just can't be the focus of your life.

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Anonymous

As a health professional, I work with many people who use self harm as a coping mechanism. I'm just wondering whether a "trigger warning" may have been a good idea at the beginning of this post though? I see one of the other commenters has already pointed out that even thinking about cutting can bring on the urge to cut.

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Anonymous

Like many of the others who left comments, I had my own journey with self-injury. It started when I was 11 and silently struggling with a myriad of things. I also got somewhat addicted to it, but it started to fade away as I got older & moved onto other destructive habits (not a route I recommend AT ALL, obviously). When I finally sought help at 19, things started getting better. I won't lie, it's still a struggle. It's an old habit, a familiar way to cope. But it is something I rarely think about now & I have even encountered incredibly difficult circumstance (death of a loved one, for instance) & talked myself out of the urge.

Also, just wanted to let you know that feeling like you disappointed your therapist is not uncommon. I experienced that with this particular struggle & other ones. Just make sure you feel comfortable enough with your therapist to talk about anyways and know realistically it's a judgement free zone. If that's not actually the case, I would consider finding another provider.

tl;dr: It really does it better. Thanks for sharing your story & you are incredibly brave to both talk about this openly & to have already sought out help. Keep on keepin' on.

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Anonymous

I agree with the above poster about having a trigger warning before the article and that picture (and possibly with it behind a cut as well, if this site's setup allows). When I was in a period where I would label myself as an active self-harmer, seeing and reading things like this, even when it was personal experiences where people acknowledge that it's not a healthy coping mechanism, it would make me feel like either at that moment, or the next time I had severe stress or my depression was particularly bad, that I had to use said coping mechanism.

I knew it wasn't a healthy thing to do, but I was already not healthy. But then – and even now, sometimes – I felt like that if I'm not self-harming, it's not REALLY "that bad." That it was some sort of validation or measuring stick of my illness. And that's a harmful mindset to be in, because it meant not seeking help or feeling like I DESERVED help just because I wasn't harming myself yet. But it was a catch-22, since I also didn't harm myself to distract or feel better for a moment. I was fully cognizant of the fact that I'd hate it later, and I hated doing it at that moment. It was to punish myself for however I'd decided I'd failed. And since it WAS punishment, well. I didn't feel deserving of any care afterward, either.

I had some counseling and a nice psychiatrist who gave me enough sample packs of an antidepressant that I didn't need a prescription (I had insurance, but mental health visits and such weren't covered). But I wish I could have gotten more help than I did. It's about ten years later, and I'm 32 and kind of stuck. I'm not self-harming, but I'm also not really trying enough of anything for there to be a chance of failure. And one of the things I worry about isn't crashing and burning with the freelance writing or jewelry-making business that I'd love to try, but my response to it. Don't get me wrong, I think I'm better than I was, but I'm still not the best version of me that I could be.

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Naomi Sanchez

I'm 25 and have been self harming since the age of 12. From pulling my hair out,burning my self and cutting. I'm not sure if I'm ready to seek help. I live in a professional world, my job is hands on,my romantic partner is older, crazy about me. I'm into fitness and health but fight with my scale on a daily basis. With all the positive around me,I still struggle with an enormous amount of self loathe. In these moments when I harm myself nothing matters,nothing. I want the people in my life to stop caring about me,I will feel free. I wish I was an animal and sometimes I think about falling off the grid and living in the streets. I want out of my relationship so that he can be happy because I'm gray and he deserves better. I don't mean to trigger anyone, I just needed to share. Thank you and good luck everyone

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