Self-harm is also known as self-injury, deliberate self-harm, self-mutilation, and cutting. Self-harm can look like cutting, scratching, burning, banging, and punching oneself, without suicidal intent. Why would someone do something like that to themselves? is a common response. The whys of self-harm are also similar to the reasons people drink, use drugs, overeat, restrict food, gamble, and excessively exercise. People do all these behaviors to manage and cope with intolerable feelings, to express their feelings, to feel in control, to distract themselves, to relieve stress or pressure, to punish themselves, or to feel something. People use these behaviors to cope with overwhelming stress, anxiety, negative emotions, and emotional numbness. Self-harm is best explained as a coping mechanism- a maladaptive one, like using drugs or binge eating, that works, but only for so long.
Behavior change is tough and letting go of a behavior that is effective in achieving the response a person desires fosters discomfort and dissonance. Imagine your significant other is out with their friends and has cheated on you in the past. You try getting a hold of them- sending messages and phoning them with no response. What emotions might come to the surface? Helplessness, powerlessness, rejection, shame, and fear- sounds awful right? How might you cope with this situation and these emotions? Listen to music, go on a walk, call one of your friends, binge drink, use drugs, cut yourself. These are all examples of coping mechanisms- the first three more healthy than the last few because you aren’t doing harm to yourself.
One of the first steps in overcoming self-harm is becoming aware of what situations and emotions trigger you to self-harm. It might be talking with your mother? Seeing your ex’s Facebook profile? Being called fat, ugly, or stupid? Feeling sadness, anger, or emptiness? It can be anything. Write down what situations, experiences, or feelings trigger you to self-harm.
What coping strategies do you use to deal with these triggers? Drink booze? Smoke a cigarette? Binge eat? Go on a run? Blast some music? Meet up with friends? Meditate? Take a shower? Write down the coping strategies, both healthy and unhealthy, you use.
Now, write down why self-harming feels good to you? What does self-harm do for you? What is it’s function? What is it’s purpose?
This might seem a little wacky and out there but I invite you to try it out. Imagine self-harm is sitting in a chair next to you- What is it’s name? What does it look like? Either draw or write down your responses. How does ________ (whatever name you came up with) impact you? How does ________ impact your friendships and your relationships in your family? How does ________ impact you in school or at your job? What does ________ prevent you from doing? Write down your answers.
Okay- you might have a better picture of what is causing you to self-harm, the role self-harm plays, and both your healthy and unhealthy coping strategies. Or you might not- identifying these things can be challenging and that is okay and completely normal.
My invitation to you is to experiment using different coping techniques- I’m not saying get rid of self-harm or ________ right now. I’m inviting you to try new and different strategies to deal with ________.
Get creative with what coping techniques you try- there is no right or wrong way as long as you aren’t harming yourself. Finger paint, write a poem, take a cold shower, cuddle with your dog, dance like Beyonce.
Copyright © 2015 Mariana Prutton. All rights reserved.