Self-Harm: Why People Think Hurting Themselves Helps Them Feel Better
The subject of self-harm or self-injury can be difficult to talk about especially to someone who does it. People may associate the behavior with suicide, but it’s not always the case.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the act of self-harm isn’t a mental disorder but related to how someone chooses to cope with personal issues related to a mental health concern such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders and even post-traumatic stress.
Why people feel self-harm helps
When someone engages in self-harm, they may do it as a form of punishment to themselves. When experiencing a period of increased pressure and tension from emotional distress, it creates a form of temporary relief. A way to block out the real world through urges that come and go accompanied by personal pain.
Sometimes the distress experienced is hard to put into words. It brings a sense of self-control or a feeling that is better than not feeling anything or numbness. It’s a void being filled or letting you be in control of the moment when unable to deal with current circumstances.
A person physically hurting themselves may not have intentions to take their own life, but they may cause permanent scarring and in some cases, lead to riskier activity when feeling as if things in their lives are becoming more difficult to bare.
How it can affect relationships
People can engage in self-harm without others knowing about it whether they have done it once or twice, or have a habit of doing so over a longer period. It can become a problem for people around you because it affects behavior and how one sees themselves around others. People may not think to get help for it or think it is anything serious, but it is not a healthy way to cope with problems or distress.
The truth about misconceptions
It is much more than physical pain. Sometimes the physical pain from self-harm such as through cutting doesn’t feel as bad as the emotional pain. Some resort to harming themselves because they feel worthless, guilty, sad, lonely or empty. It can also be a way of dealing with anger or rage. Some feel this is the only way to cope with emotions. Because urges reoccur to hurt oneself it is hard for a person to see the relief they feel is temporary.
It’s not for attention and doing it doesn’t make them crazy. Many do this in secret and don’t want others to know. Or, they are not sure how to ask for help. There isn’t anything pleasant about doing something like this in front of others as some have been lead to believe. It doesn’t help to call someone crazy if they do this. Many dealing with anxiety or depression, for example, may do this as a coping mechanism.
Another misconception includes the idea the person is trying to take their life. People engaging in self-harm do this so they can move on from their distress. While many don’t have intentions to commit suicide, they are putting themselves at risk of doing so. It’s why such individuals must seek help.
Finally, a misleading misconception is that small wounds are nothing to worry about. No matter the size of the wound, big or small, it is a serious problem to seek help. Even minor wounds are cause for concern because acts of self-harm can grow to more serious actions creating deeper wounds.
Why self-harm doesn’t help
Some think it helps them feel better, but it may make things worse later on. The relief experienced doesn’t last long, and it’s hard to keep it a secret when scars become visible, or you isolate yourself often just to do it. Some forms of self-harm can be physically damaging meaning you may accidentally cause more harm than intended, or irreversible damage.
Dealing with emotional pain may become more challenging leading to higher risk of substance abuse, major depression, or suicide. People have become addicted to harming themselves in a compulsive manner leading to feeling as if the action of hurting yourself is in control of you. Such actions don’t help because there are underlying issues that need attention and can be managed in a healthy manner.
Learn what is bothering you and work with someone who can walk through the process with you so you can feel better and regain control of your emotions without the need of hurting yourself. There are many techniques to consider that prevent self-harm you can practice.
Taking positive action
Understand your feelings by sharing them with someone that will listen. Open up in a way that is comfortable for you. You can choose to talk in person with someone, write a note, or email when you are ready to talk. Have reading material that details self-harm to give to the person you want to talk to so they have better insight and can proactively support you. It can be uncomfortable to talk about, and you may get discouraged, but it is an important step toward helping you feel better.