Why People – “Self-Harm”

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You’ve just discovered someone in your life is hurting themselves on purpose.  Our immediate thoughts are, “Why would someone hurt themselves on purpose? What would lead a person to believe that this was somehow a solution to any problem?” Let’s take a minute to understand the possible causes of this behavior.

Most often, in looking back on a child or teenage person displaying this behavior, there has been some type of trauma, neglect, abuse or traumatic event in that person’s life.  Whatever the reason, that person is not able to process these tragic events.  Cutting, or self harm becomes a coping mechanism in dealing with such pain.

It might not make sense to others…. “So why self inflict more pain to deal with the original pain?  That seems backwards in their thinking”.

Think of it this way.  When a person is not sure how to deal with emotions, they “shelf” the pain.  Self harm is a way for them to release the pain.  Emotional pain is not seen. Physical pain is visible… “When I cut myself, it makes scene that I am hurting.  I see the blood coming from my body.  There is a purpose to my pain… the cut.” This is the logical thinking of someone self harming.

Additionally, when a person injures themselves, endorphins or pain killing hormones are released into the body, causing that persons mood to elevate.  There is an additional comfort associated with the self harm pain.

From the original emotional pain caused by traumatic experiences, emotional numbness is created. There are not coping skills taught to those who experience this…. and… herein lies the challenge.

First and foremost, the person needs to understand why they are self harming.  In their mind it is simple.  “When life gets too hard, I cut myself, and I feel better.” But, dig deeper… There is a reason that you cut yourself… What have been the emotional challenges in your life?  This might be more effective when discussed with a professional, or someone who can guide you through the process of identifying this underlying cause.

A second clue is to ask yourself, “What are my triggers? What is my mental state prior to cutting myself?  Am I stressed, made fun of, or scared?”  There is a reason why you self harm. Identifying the cause is the first part of treatment.

Secondly, after you have identified the cause, it time to move towards a successful solution in dealing with “the trauma”.  Up until now, cutting has been the solution.  But, just know that there are other solutions even more effective than what you are currently experiencing. And, these other solutions do not bring the shame, and guilt that are associated with self harm.

Here are some solutions to consider:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy, a type of CBT that teaches behavioral skills to help you tolerate distress, manage or regulate your emotions, and improve your relationships with others
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, adaptive ones
  • Dialectical behavior therapy, a type of CBT that teaches behavioral skills to help you tolerate distress, manage or regulate your emotions, and improve your relationships with others
  • Mindfulness-based therapies, which help you live in the present, appropriately perceive the thoughts and actions of those around you to reduce your anxiety and depression, and improve your general well-being.

If professional assistance is not available, find a trusted friend.  They can be key in your recovery as well. You should express the problem that you are facing which is causing you to consider self harm. Let that person talk through other reasonable solutions in dealing with your issue. Learn to find success in expressing discomfort as a way to release your emotional pain. Getting outside of your own head is a big part of being healthy.

You can find successful solutions.  There is hope. Identify the underlying reasons, and move forward in processing your emotions differently. You can and will find a peaceful life once again.

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