Is self-injury typical?
There is no kind of typical self-injury behavior. But in order to find better ways to deal with it when it happens, it is important to understand some things about it.
When some people self-injury, they say they do it because it distracts them and alleviates the intense emotional pain that they are feeling. Others say they do it because they feel numb and injuring themselves helps them feel something.
Self-injury is usually kept secret but for some people it can be a way to ask for help, since it can become a way of communicating distress when there are difficulties doing it any other way. For those who are secretive about injuring themselves, this habit is focused on ameliorating their own emotional pain, while for those who share it, it can be a way to communicate their feelings. When someone is found cutting, it's likely to elicit empathy and concern from others.
Self-injury is what clinicians call a maladaptive coping tool because it isn't the best way to manage a problem, even if it brings temporary relief. Unfortunately, that relief makes self-injurious behavior very reinforcing, meaning that people may come to rely upon it as a way to deal or communicate painful feelings.
The longer someone practices self-injury, the more difficult to interrupt it becomes. It is also common that many of those who self-injure feel ashamed about doing it and say they don't want to do it anymore. Even in those cases, without proper and specialized help, interrupting this behavior may be very difficult.
When should I pay special attention to self-injury?
Self-injurious behavior is usually associated with intense suffering and should be taken seriously at any moment it occurs. Some challenges we go through can be really frustrating and there are plenty of times when we don't know what to do. However, using this strategy to deal with emotional pain, numbness, or life conflicts does not actually help solving any problems. Even though it may give a temporary relief, it inflicts physical pain and it leaves marks. Some people might think it is not a big deal, but in the long run, self-injury leads to negative outcomes such as feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hate. If you are going through any difficulty and are injuring yourself, you don't have to deal with that on your own. Support and guidance are available now.
What can I do if I struggle with self-injury?
If you are going through any difficulty and are injuring yourself, you don't have to deal with it on your own. Asking for help is important sooner than later.
- Ask a trusted adult for help. Trusted adults are usually our caregivers, other family members, or someone else who is responsible for taking care of us. Let your trusted adults know about your difficulties. They can be helpful for assisting you and helping you get any additional help you may need.
- Accept the help a trusted adult gives you. Sometimes people around us notice when there is something wrong with us. When it happens, it is common that they reach out to us. Even though sometimes people don't know how to reach out in the best way, take this opportunity to share what you have been going through. No one needs to deal with intense levels of suffering or distress on their own.
If you feel the urge to self-injure, there are a few things you may try:
- Distract yourself. Sometimes we need some distractions from whatever is causing us distress. Try watching movies, TV shows, listening to music or doing other activities that can distract yourself.
- Use other alternatives. There are some alternatives that generate the same effects of relief as self-injury but without causing you any harm. Examples of those are:
• Holding an ice cube in the palm of your hand with your fingers around it for as long as you can
• Taking a cold shower or putting your face in a cold water bowl
• Biting off a piece of raw pepper
• Moving your body very intensely, like running or jumping, for about five minutes
- Lock up or freeze the tools you use to self-injure. Not having access to the tools that are usually used for self-injuring is really important to prevent it from happening.
- Call a helpline. If there are any moments when you feel you can't handle all that on your own, you may try calling some national available hotlines.
Besides asking for help and while you are reaching out for help, there are a few things you may try to prevent yourself from self-injuring:
- Try to understand your triggers and what self-injuring does for you. Pay attention to what emotions, thoughts, sensations, situations trigger your urges to self-injure. Also, try to think about how you feel right after you do it to understand what it does for you.
- Make the reasons why you don't want to self-injure anymore clear to yourself. Because self-injury can bring immediate relief, sometimes it is difficult to be willing to interrupt these behaviors. However, when we look a little closer we notice that engaging in self-injury harms our school life, our social relationships, and also the relationships we have with ourselves. So, think about what you want in life. Think about the kind of life you want for yourself and let it all guide on a purpose to stop self-injuring.
- Remember the good things about you. When we self-injure, it is common to also feel down and not so great about ourselves. So, try to remember the nice things about you, your strengths and also what makes you interesting. Everyone is unique in some sort of way.
- Remember you are not guilty of anything and you don't deserve any kind of punishment. Sometimes we feel really bad about ourselves. Sometimes we even might think we have reasons for that. But either way, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. So, even if you are feeling bad about yourself, or about anything you have done, remember that you deserve to be treated kindly and not punished. Even when we make mistakes, we are able to repair them.
- Try new experiences. Try new social activities or school clubs, for example. Because we tend to withdraw when we are self-injuring, it is important to be around others while participating in enjoyable activities.
- Exercise, eat well and do things you enjoy. Maintaining physical wellness and practicing pleasant activities may improve your mood and be useful distractions at times.
- Pay attention and look for help for other mental health difficulties. If you notice that you struggle with other mental health difficulties (such as persistent sadness or anger, excessive worries or fears, etc.), look for help so that these factors will not increase the risk of you attempting self-injury.
- Acknowledge and recognize the progress. When you make progress, it is important to acknowledge it. Compliment yourself for every effort you make overcoming your urges to self-injure.
Avoid attempting to "fix" your self harm difficulties on your own. It is best to solicit the help of a mental health professional who can help you by assessing why you are self-injuring and what emotional difficulties you are experiencing.
What kind of professional support can be sought out?
It is not unusual for us to feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if we are struggling with self-injury. But, if you think you are facing this difficulty, support and guidance are available now.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, a consultation with a mental health professional may be necessary.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on self-injuring behaviors can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.