Most of us have a natural instinct to protect and look after ourselves. But when life gets on top of us, or we’re troubled by painful memories and feelings, self-harm can seem like it’s helping us cope.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when we hurt ourselves to help ourselves cope. For some people, this might mean harming yourself physically, perhaps by cutting, scratching or burning your skin, pulling your hair or punching walls. For others, it can mean pushing your body too far, maybe by working out at the gym until you feel sick, not eating enough, or consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol, drugs or medication. Self-harm can be more subtle, too: you might put yourself in dangerous situations and almost hope to get hurt. Self-harm can give us some momentary relief from our emotional problems – but in the long run, it only makes us feel worse.
What makes us self-harm?
It’s not easy to explain why people self-harm – or why it sometimes helps us to deal with our emotions in the short-term. If you don’t yet understand why you’re hurting yourself, have a look through the list of statements below and see if you identify with any of them.
– I’ve lost a family member or friend
– An important relationship has ended
– I can’t cope at school or work
– I’m being bullied or discriminated against
– I’m being sexually abused
– I’m worried about money
– I have an illness
– I’m keeping a difficult secret
– I have issues in my past that I can’t forget
Many health professionals believe that when we self-harm, we’re trying to take control of a situation, express feelings we can’t find the words for, stop ourselves feeling numb, or let people around know that we’re struggling. By causing ourselves physical pain, it can make our emotional problems briefly feel better. But it’s important to remember that self-harm is never the answer.
How can I help myself?
Self-harming is very common and you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. But if you’d prefer not to discuss the issue with anyone quite yet, here are some tips to help you stop yourself self-harming when the urge arises – and maybe break the cycle altogether.
– Identify patterns and triggers: keep a diary and note what was happening when you felt the urge to self-harm. Where were you, what were you doing, what were you thinking about and who were you with? Was there anything significant about that day? Keep it up for a few weeks and you’ll see patterns emerging. You can then start identifying the situations, people and places to avoid.
– Find a distraction: in your diary, note down how you feel when you’re about to self-harm (this might be anything from a raised heartbeat to a feeling of numbness). Next time that feeling arises, find a distraction that gives you a release, whether that’s playing a musical instrument, shouting, dancing or exercising. See if you can keep yourself occupied for ten minutes – by which point the urge to self-harm may have passed.
– Look after yourself: keeping fit and healthy, eating a good diet and getting enough sleep can all help boost your mood, energy levels and self-esteem. Make time for the things you enjoy and make sure that you always have something to look forward to.
How can I get support?
If you feel you need help for your self-harming, it’s good to talk to someone you trust – sharing how you feel with a parent, friend or teacher can make a big difference.
For professional help, there are lots of treatments and support networks available. Visit the Gloucestershire Self Harm Helpline:
Freephone: 0808 801 0606 or Text: 07537 410022 for online support www.rethink.org/glosselfharm
If you feel you need help, then it’s good to talk to someone you trust – sharing how you feel with a parent, friend or teacher can make a big difference.
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!