A topic came up the other day at a training I was doing at work where one of my colleagues asked “what brings a person to succumb to cutting themselves or other self harming behaviors?” It was when our trainer did not have the answer that I made the decision to shed light on the matter. With that, I wanted to share with others curious as to why someone would willingly cause harm to themselves.
For years, many people viewed cutting as a cry for attention. And while this may be somewhat true, it is not true in the way people may think. It used to be viewed that those that did not slice their arms in a vertical direction in attempt to commit suicide then they were just “wanting attention.” I want to end that way of thinking, or at the very least, provide insight to those that do not completely understand the purpose of self harming behaviors. Self harming is not the same as suicide attempts. Many people that self harm do not wish to kill themselves.
While self harming behaviors, like cutting, may begin due to suicide ideation it quickly becomes something completely different after that first incident. What many do not realize is that self harm becomes an outlet for those with depression and other mental illnesses. It is a way to turn emotional or mental pain into something physical. It gives a sense of release to the person that is almost intoxicating to the point they keep coming back to it. I know what you must be thinking, how in the world does causing yourself pain intoxicate you? It is simple really, much like drugs affect hormone stimulation or release causing people to become addicted, self harm does similar acts.
My first time encountering self harming behaviors happened when I was in the 6th grade. I was depressed and while I did not want to end my life, I wanted a way to get rid of the bottled up pain and overwhelming sadness. So I found a pair of fabric scissors and decided to cut myself. Living in Florida at the time, I did not want to call attention to myself by wearing long sleeves and I definitely didn’t want anybody questioning why I had cuts on my arms so I chose a less conspicuous location. I would cut my hip, a place where nobody would ever see my dark little secret. After cutting myself, I felt a sense of release and calm. It was as if temporarily my internal agony had faded and in its place was the sting of my hip from the blade of the dull scissors. I did not cut all the time, in fact the occurrences were sometimes weeks or even months apart. But cutting was not the only way I would try to hurt myself. I remember one day being so furious that I wanted to punch something. Although I can’t tell you what it was that angered me, I can say that it was such a rage that was unable to be held within and had to be released. So instead of punching anything in my room or throwing things around, I punched my leg. And then I punched it again and again and again. Before I knew it my anger had eased and in its place a soreness on my leg. By the next day I had a bruise the size of my fist and had to conceal the pain it gave me so that nobody would notice any difference. You would think that after feeling the aftereffects of cutting or punching myself that I would have never fallen to that point again however, every time I found myself in a hole with no way out, buried in overwhelming sadness and worthlessness, I would revert to either using whatever I could find whether it was a broken hanger, those dull scissors, or a razor to cut myself or just punching my leg if nothing else was available. There was something about the way self harming made me feel directly after that would bring me back to it.
Now I do not share my story in search of pity, but rather it is to spread awareness. I did not grow up in a horrible home environment, I was just clinically depressed and felt I had nobody to talk to. The worst thing you can do if you find your child, friend, or anybody you care about engaging in self harming behavior is making them feel bad about it. Because it will only make them want to hide it that much more and make them feel even more alone. Just sitting there and listening to them can do so much to help them move past their rough patch. Try to understand why they felt that self harming was a better option then talking. And for those struggling with it, there are other options. I found that working out helped me to release all that bottled up emotion but in a healthier way and finding at least one person to talk to whether it is a parent, friend, or even a therapist, it is important to speak to someone. And believe me, there are people out there that do care!
*If you would like to know more about self harm you can visit this link to learn more. And if you or someone you know is engaging in self harming behaviors you can visit here for more information on how to get help.*