Self-Injury and the Survivor
If you reading this you are interested in the subject of self-injury.
It could be that you do it yourself or you know somebody who does.
Whatever brings you here, read on. Learn about what is happening - without education we can’t develop ourselves further.
On the surface, the answer to Why is simple You are suffering a deep emotional pain and in response to this you are cutting, banging burning or ingesting poisons.
The majority of people cut - slashing flesh over and over with razors, glass or knifes.
What you are getting from the injury of your person is more complicated and individual to you.
I can’t tell you what functions it serves to you. Only you can answer that but I can tell some of the common reasons why people self-injure. Understanding those can help you work out what you get from it.
Hopefully from there you can try and get help with replacing self-injury with a less damaging behaviour. One where YOU don’t get hurt.
You’ve been hurt enough.
Protection against suicide
You are in so much pain that you want to die. Life just does not seem worthwhile anymore. You self-injure because you are frightened that if you don’t you will commit suicide.
BECAREFUL: Self-injury is risk-taking behaviour and you could lose your life without wanting to.
If you have feelings of wanting to die please reach out to someone you trust or phone the Samaritans (UK) 24 hours a day on 0345 90 90 90. Don’t be alone with it. Too many other survivors have been lost to suicide, don’t become a statistic. Hold one on more hour, one night one day - do what you do best. SURVIVE.
Control of Anger
You are ANGRY. And with good reason. The anger is immense and it can feel to big or too dangerous to express. You may self-injure to control this anger.
You are turning it inwards and this is a feeling you don’t deserve. There is no reason for anyone to be angry with you. Try releasing anger in other ways, such as hitting cushions with a bat although this may seem strange at first. Make a pact with yourself to release anger in ways that don’t hurt you or anyone else.
Expression of pain
You want to show the amount of pain you have. Not necessarily to anyone else it maybe just to you. It is NOT attention seeking - if you wanted attention you’d find an easier way to achieve this than harming yourself.
Control of Pain
The pain of abuse and rape can be very intense and at times it may feel like it never goes away. You may feel as though it’s out of control and all you can do is try and ride it out as best you can. You feel that self-injury is pain that YOU control.
The truth is that self-injury is an addiction like most abusive behaviours. You get a response from it that your body likes and so you do it again and again. Soon it becomes that you have to do. That isn’t control.
Helping to Feel the Pain
You may not have intense feelings of anger and hurt. You may feel numb to everything but be aware of an intense pressure bubbling just out of reach. Those maybe worse than riding out the pain and so you injure yourself to feel something. Even if it’s just to remind you are alive.
Try some relaxation exercises that involve concentrating on breathing and tensing muscle groups. It’ll help you become aware of your body but be careful. Relaxing may suddenly allow you do start feeling that pain.
Releasing of Tension
Being a survivor is hard, painful work and sometimes it’s just too much. The anger, hurt and tears are pent-up inside and you don’t know what to do. It feels so, so painful and overwhelming. Some people report that self-injuring gives them a great sense of relief which then allows them to sleep or be distracted.
However the relief is short lived and the feelings do come back. Your body will store up the hurt and pain of your self-injury like it did of the abuse and / or rape.
Injuring yourself can give you the chance to care for yourself. You may clean and dress the wounds and make them feel better. It’s like your mother looking after your skinned knee when you were little.
Try caring for yourself in a non-destructive way as soon as the terrible feelings start. Try a warm bath, a good book, bed. Find what’s right for you to make you feel safe.
This list is not exhaustive. YOUR reason for self-injury maybe a combination of two or three of the above.
A word about Accident and Emergency departments
The severity of a self-injury can increase in relation to the amount of time you have been doing it. Therefore it’s possible that at some point you may need to be treated at an AE department
You need to go immediately if:
- You have blood spurting from a cut or a cut that won’t stop bleeding or close.
- You have taken any overdose of medication. Even small overdoses of some drugs can be lethal.
- You have ingested anything poisonous or non-food.
- You have any severe burns.
- You have banged your head and feel unwell or have been unconscious
Some A&E departments have been found to be very unsympathetic towards people with self inflicted injuries. It has been reported that some staff (i.e. doctors and nurses) have been rude or ignored the person. There has also been reports of inappropriate treatment.
- Be respected at all times.
- Have anaesthetic for any stitches.
- Be able to have a support person with you all the time if you wish.
- The chance to talk to a psychiatrist if you want to.
- Be informed about all aspects of your care.
The National Self-Harm Network is working towards to putting a stop to ill treatment of those who self-harm by A&E staff. Please contact them to report any problems you have encountered.
Stopping self-injury has to come from within. It has to be your choice to find a less destructive behaviour. If it is not your choice then you probably won’t stop.
The important first step to stopping self-injury is finding support. You need your feelings and pain validated and listened to. They are important.
Support can come from a loved one or someone you trust but it could be worth considering counselling or psychotherapy. They give you the opportunity to explore and express your feelings safely. They can help you with replacing destructive behaviour with self-loving behaviour.
If there is no one close to you that you can trust try one of the addresses below. They may give be able to offer you support or give you information about a local support group.