Trigger warning – self harm

When I was a teenager I used to have repetitive thoughts about cutting my wrists. They were intrusive and they scared me but I never engaged in self harm. I do have many friends who have self harmed and they’ve explained why they engaged in this behavior. Self harm is a response to experiencing an intense level of emotions, such as depression, loneliness, anger or rage. A person might self harm because their feelings are too much to bear. They want a break from the level of pain they are experiencing. Another reason for self harming is that seeing the harm on your body is an externalization of the pain the person is feeling. They want to somehow let out how they feel and seeing scars from the harm are a manifestation of these emotions. When people self harm they can also experience an absence of feeling altogether. They might feel completely numb, which is a distraction from the high level of pain they were previously experiencing.

People who have Complex PTSD sometimes self harm due to their prolonged experiences of trauma. When the person is triggered, they want that intense feeling associated with their trigger to stop. Self harm can relieve some of the pain that they are feeling. The unfortunate thing is that the “relief” that people feel after engaging in self harm is temporary. The pain from trauma goes deeper than that and those emotional wounds are the ones that need to be addressed in therapy. Self harm is a behavioral pattern that is actually a coping mechanism to deal with intense levels of pain. It’s a maladaptive one, but it’s still a coping mechanism.

Let’s get one thing straight: people are not self harming for attention.

I’ve heard people say that those who self harm “just want attention.” This is incorrect and something that reinforces stigma. People who self harm want to stop feeling intense emotional pain and they are using this behavior as an attempt to feel better, even for a moment. People engage in cutting or burning (as two examples) to try to let go of pent up emotions that they feel there is no place for. I understand the reasons for this behavior but many people shame others for self harming. This isn’t helpful or necessary, These are the same people who probably insist that depression isn’t real and people are just lazy or unmotivated. These stigmas are unhelpful and hurtful.

To all my warriors out there dealing with trauma and old wounds

If you’re struggling with self harm, it’s not your fault. No matter what anyone says to you IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You’re in pain and trying to hope with that pain the best way you know how. But, remember that there are people out there who can help you. There are ways to find a therapist and get the help that you need. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even if things seem dismal, there is hope out there and I know you’ll find it.