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self-injury is a means of coping


Mark
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We intend this forum to be a safe place where people who self-injure can talk about the self-injury process and what drives them to self-harm with the goal of helping themselves and each other to self-harm less frequently or not at all. Note the emphasis on the word safe above. We need your help to keep this forum safe. Please, try to avoid going into graphic and extraneous detail in posts made here. If you need to do so, please mark the title of your posts with a Trigger Tag [!] to alert people who don't want that image in their minds so that they can avoid it. Please keep self-injury posts inside the Self-Injury forum for the same reason.

Maybe a good way to start discussion here is to note that self-injury is not random or a sign of a crazed mind. Instead, there are actually reasons why people choose to self-harm, though those reasons are not easy for many people to understand. For some, the act of self-injury is a way to come back from a feeling of numbness and dissociation. Others self-harm becuase they feel too much and the act of cuting or burning themselves reduces the pain they feel to something managable. Some self-injurers feel a need to self-punish for perceived crimes and wrongdoings they believe they've committed. Others self-harm becuase it reduces tension, or becuase it expresses anger and rage feelings. These various reasons make perfect sense to people who self-harm; they are hard for people who do not self-harm to relate to. This disparity results in a lot of unnecessary shame, and the things that come with shame. A lot of self-injury gets hidden. Long sleeves are worn to avoid display of scars, etc. People who self-injure encounter the uncomprehending other people in their lives and walk away feeling like they are damaged, and the other people walk away feeling like the self-injurers are damaged also. It may even be true (becuase certainly in many cases the urge to self-injure is a reaction to some trauma), but the shame overlay that gets draped on top of the action is nevertheless harmful and unnecessary.

I wish there was some way to make people understand better that the people who self-injury are doing so as a means of coping. Not necessarily healthy coping, but coping nevertheless. Self-injury is a way of trying to make things right. But that is hard to get across to many people. They react emotionally to the horror of the act and lose the person and the inner struggle in the process.

Discussion in this forum (which is presently empty) can become a way to try to help people who don't understand self-injury to understand it. It can become a means of helping out other people who are self-injuring, and to gain help for yourself. What is necessary in order to start the process is for someone to step up to the plate and write about their experience.

What is your self-injury story?

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Guest h8cruelty

I'm old, and yet only now have occasionally gotten into the self-cutting thing. For me, it's definitely a stress-reliever. Also, it is a way of punishing myself for things I believe I have done that deserve punishment. This only happens when I'm in extreme depression, and am not really my self. I also have a desire to "crucify" myself, fortunately not very often. I've never followed through with the desire. The best advice I can give to self-cutters is to love yourself, respect yourself, and care for yourself. That will go a long way towards ending this destructive desire.

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Can I ask, how did you discover the whole self-injury thing? Where you introduced to it by someone (or some book or website?) or did it kinda invent itself in your mind. I'm curious. I was at a seminar on the topic and the instructor was talking about how teens (mostly he works with teens in a residential setting) spread the knowledge.

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I kind of "found" self-harm on my own, although this was nearly fifteen years ago when it was far less common among teenagers. I began scratching myself with a toenail clipper whenever the yelling or physical abuse at home got bad. It helped me escape my feelings and deaden myself.

Once I was on my own, I still had what to me were "overreactions" or "dead" feelings and I self-harmed to end those episodes. (I moved on to razor blades, too). When I finally, years later, got into therapy, my counselor diagnosed me with PTSD. Understanding that when I feel out of control I am reacting to something that triggers trauma memories has made a world of difference to me, and self-injury is not something I need to do anymore.

Thank you for the initial post, which emphasizes that this is not a crazy behavior. My shame about my self-harm kept me from seeking help for a long time. I was so sure I must be truly sick in the head. It has been the greatest relief in the world to be able to conclude that I was doing the best that I could in a difficult situation.

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When I was a teenager, I used to cut myself with broke glass. It was a way to feel physical pain, which is manageable, instead of the horrible mental pain I was going through.

The idea was already in my head, but I don't think I would have done it on my own. It was something I only did with friends. I did burn my fingertips on candle flames and hot wax on my own, though.

As a teenager and through my mid-twenties I had a lot of body image issues. I'm fat, and I had a very hard time accepting my body or loving it. I read a synopsis of the study done by Dr. Ancel Keys in the 50's relating to starvation and it's affect on people, and one of the side-effects of calorie-restricted eating is self-injury, so I now believe that this may have been a factor. I was on starvation diets through that period of my life, sometimes as low as 600 calories a day (and I felt like a pig for eating that much). I just wouldn't get any thinner and I never understood why, so I blamed myself.

Anyway, I hope that helps some people to understand better. Thanks for opening this topic.

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Guest ASchwartz

Because you do have an appointment with the Doctor it makes sense to let him know how the past anti depressant medications affected you. He needs that history in order to evaluate your situation before the two of you make any medication decisions.

Allan

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Guest h8cruelty

Mark, I realize now that the urge to injure myself goes back to my childhood. I would slap myself across the face, hit myself with a belt or heavy stick. But it wasn't until the ripe old age of 50 (a year after my husband died) that I had the overwhelming need to cut. First, I cut off some of my toenails. It felt great- such a relief from all the stress I was feeling. Then I made a promise to someone not to do it anymore, so I cut myself very rarely. Unfortunately, I slipped a few days ago. Something happened in my life which was intolerable, so I fulfilled my fantasy of driving a nail through my hand. I can't tell you how good it felt, and all the tension started draining from my body. I can see how this can get addictive. However, it is a sick, totally not helpful way to ease emotional pain and stress. Love yourself, keep good friends close. That's the way to go.

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Well this is a surprise to me to find myself writing about what I did for 26 years. I started with picking at acne- I would not let it heal the scabs would come and I would remove them to keep the pain on the surface so that the feelings inside would be smaller.

I found out in therapy that I feel my emotions strongly and many do not understand that that is okay. I have been 4 years without hurting myself and this does not mean that life is not aggravating or overwhelming. it just means that I have learned that my own views and opinions are good no matter what ANYONE says about them. This is something I never believed which can lead a "normal" person to question their own worth in the game of life. ALL of of us have value whether others are willing to allow us to be ourselves and love each other as the individuals we are. There is a wonderful person in all of us that needs our own person to respect- to allow that person to live without judgment of others to get in the way or change the way we treat ourself , with the love from within.

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Forgeting,

There is some very slight evidence that anti depressants can cause suicidal thinking is some children and some teenagers. I believe the documented cases are very few, but enough for the FDA to put warning signs on the medicines for those two groups.

As for adults, I do not believe that anti depressants actually cause the person to have suicidal thoughts. In my experience in my practice and with people I know, it has never happened.

However, what can happen and sometimes does occur is that when a person is depressed, is prescribed an anti depressant, and starts to feel just slightly better, they may have enough energy to entertain the suicidal idea. In other words, the person is in between depression and feeling a whole lot better. That in-berween place can occasionally trigger suicidal thoughts and even an attempt until they get completely out of the depression.

In my opinion, and according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, if depression lasts more than two weeks, it is not likely it will go away by itself. Now, I won't say that it will never happen. What I will say it that the longer a depression lasts, the less is the likelihood that it will go away by itself.

Remember what we always recommend: psychotherapy, medication(if necessary), regular exercise(with Medical Doctor clearance), meditation, yoga, etc.

What do other people think?

Allan

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Guest h8cruelty

There are times when cutting can really help you get through another day. Don't do any significant harm to yourself, but I know that sometimes you have to find a way to cope. The best thing you can do for yourself is find a caring person who is there for you and can help you get through the hellish times. Find that person. If you can't, I'll be there for you.

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Self harm can be many things for different people. I think I have and still, I guess, use it for several different things. There is the numbness where I dont feel real and then there is stress anxiety where I've used it for immediatle release and also when I feel like I'm hurting inside in some way and have no means of expressing it. Using pain to transfer that pain to something visible and tangible.

I have recently been very depressed and I think at long last my mood has lifted somewhat. But I can't think back to a time when I was ever without a sense of distance from the activities going on around me. I wonder if I was perhaps depressed to some level throught most of my childhood or at least adolessence. Is that even possible?

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To Kalima-

Yes, there is a disorder called Dysthymia that is basically a less intense, but longer duration depression. Many people who have dysthymia say that they have basically felt depressed for their whole lives (or for as long as they can remember). Even though it sounds bad, the same treatments that work for Depression frequently work for Dysthymia. So, psychotherapy, medications, and/or a combination of both may work for you.

You can read more about Dysthymia by clicking here to go to our Depression topic center.

It's definitely worth going to a mental health professional to get assessed and treated for whatever is going on (it also could be a medical condition that is causing you to feel depressed). I encourage you to do so.

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I've been self-harming for years i've tried to find a way to stop, when i feel the urge to harm myself i can put it of for a while but in the end i have to do it the pain becomes unbearable, when i was 9-12 i was sexually abused and raped by my brother and his best mate, i tried on several occasions to tell my mother about the abuse but she didn't believe me after the fourth attempt i started to self-harm as a way of coping, when the truth came out and my mother found out the truth she blamed it all on me she said it was my fault and i believed her, as i've got older i've carried the blame with meand as i've got older the blame has gotten stronger i self-harmed to relieve that feeling, but just lately i've been having such a hard time shaking my past off i've been having nightmares and flashbacks.

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I've been self-harming for years i've tried to find a way to stop, when i feel the urge to harm myself i can put it of for a while but in the end i have to do it the pain becomes unbearable, when i was 9-12 i was sexually abused and raped by my brother and his best mate, i tried on several occasions to tell my mother about the abuse but she didn't believe me after the fourth attempt i started to self-harm as a way of coping, when the truth came out and my mother found out the truth she blamed it all on me she said it was my fault and i believed her, as i've got older i've carried the blame with meand as i've got older the blame has gotten stronger i self-harmed to relieve that feeling, but just lately i've been having such a hard time shaking my past off i've been having nightmares and flashbacks.

Hi Sheryl :rolleyes: my reason for self abuse is nothing compared to yours. I do it because I hate myself for being overweight (getting to the that stage- why don't I control myself?) and sometimes I feel I have to punish myself for feeling depressed when then I have no reason to be compared to most people my life is relatively good, yet I still hit myself physically, then I feel guilty.

Sharon I would just like to say, I know it most likely won't help, but your story made me very sad. What happened was your brother's and his friends fault and your mother should have believed you. I don't believe anyone could make up such abuse.

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Hi Sheryl :rolleyes: my reason for self abuse is nothing compared to yours. I do it because I hate myself for being overweight (getting to the that stage- why don't I control myself?) and sometimes I feel I have to punish myself for feeling depressed when then I have no reason to be compared to most people my life is relatively good, yet I still hit myself physically, then I feel guilty.

Sharon I would just like to say, I know it most likely won't help, but your story made me very sad. What happened was your brother's and his friends fault and your mother should have believed you. I don't believe anyone could make up such abuse.

hi there are alot of reasons why people self-harm you should learn to love yourself your are probably a beautiful person, why do you physically hit yourself? you could really hurt yourself.

thank you for what you said it means alot that a stranger has read my story and has believed me and my mother never has.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am glad to hear you describe this as a "coping mechanism." That is exactly what it is for me. Ironically, a few years ago I was in an intensive outpatient program and one of the other women in my group had a very serious cutting problem. I could not for the life of me fathom why anybody would do such a thing to themselves. About 6 months ago, I was in the midst of a severe depression and fighting severe anixety at the same time. I was so wound up and so dead inside at the same time. I soon discovered that, with cutting, I could feel pain deep inside that reassured me I was "alive" and it relieved my anger, frustration and stress at the same time. I do not do it often, but it is definitely a means of coping when things are bad. It is also a form of self-punishment. When I am angry at myself, I feel like I deserve to feel pain and be hurt, so I cut.

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Guest ASchwartz

Is there some other, healthier way to deal with emotions when you are in pain and when you believe you deserve punishment?

Also, why should you believe you deserve punishment?

Allan

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In the past I've used cutting as a coping mechanism when I was feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, guilt, etc. I think it has also in the past sometimes been a test to see how much pain I can take, to learn whether I would be able to commit suicide in this way (the answer to that one seems to be emphatically "no," thankfully). Right now I'm feeling pretty good, because it's been almost four months since I last self-injured, and I've been through one episode of major depression since then. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone, but one of the things that was instrumental in helping me stop was a deal I made with my partner. The deal wasn't that I couldn't self-injure anymore; instead, I promised that I would call him or talk to him about it first. That didn't really work at first -- I was still self-injuring and then telling him about it later -- but he was never judgemental about it with me, he just reiterated to me that he really wanted me to talk to him first.

This last time around, it actually seemed to work. I didn't want SI to be my coping mechanism anymore, and I was able to talk it out with M. every time it became a temptation.

What was funny was that in some ways, I ended up feeling really angry and at a loss, because I didn't feel like cutting was a good coping mechanism anymore, but I was struggling to find things to replace it with. Talking to M. helped, and so did other ways of venting, but I felt so frustrated because SI had at least been something to DO about the depression/anxiety, even if it was something negative that I didn't want to do anymore. I actually in some ways felt more angry and impotent than before. I suppose that makes sense, but it was a very weird feeling.

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In the past I've used cutting as a coping mechanism when I was feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, guilt, etc. I think it has also in the past sometimes been a test to see how much pain I can take, to learn whether I would be able to commit suicide in this way (the answer to that one seems to be emphatically "no," thankfully). Right now I'm feeling pretty good, because it's been almost four months since I last self-injured, and I've been through one episode of major depression since then. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone, but one of the things that was instrumental in helping me stop was a deal I made with my partner. The deal wasn't that I couldn't self-injure anymore; instead, I promised that I would call him or talk to him about it first. That didn't really work at first -- I was still self-injuring and then telling him about it later -- but he was never judgemental about it with me, he just reiterated to me that he really wanted me to talk to him first.

This last time around, it actually seemed to work. I didn't want SI to be my coping mechanism anymore, and I was able to talk it out with M. every time it became a temptation.

What was funny was that in some ways, I ended up feeling really angry and at a loss, because I didn't feel like cutting was a good coping mechanism anymore, but I was struggling to find things to replace it with. Talking to M. helped, and so did other ways of venting, but I felt so frustrated because SI had at least been something to DO about the depression/anxiety, even if it was something negative that I didn't want to do anymore. I actually in some ways felt more angry and impotent than before. I suppose that makes sense, but it was a very weird feeling.

Hi

I self-harm for different reasons i was sexually absused and raped as a child i tried to tell my mother but she never believed me i tried to commit suicide a number of times but it never worked out, so i started cutting as away of coping i still do it i try not to and can put off doing it for a while but eventually i can't stop myself any longer, do you ever feel like that?

Do you take medicine for you depression? because that may help you instead of hurting yourself, ion a few occasions when my husband has found a cut on my wrist he has treatened that if i do it again he'll send me to a psychiatric unit.

why do you feel like you deserve to be in pain?

take care,

sheryl.

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Is there some other, healthier way to deal with emotions when you are in pain and when you believe you deserve punishment?

Also, why should you believe you deserve punishment?

Allan

I am not very good at identifying healthy coping mechanisms. I have tried distraction methods like guided imagery but, sometimes, it ends up making the stress worse when I feel like I can't follow the image or my mind takes the image somewhere it shouldnt. So, I give up. Same thing for exercise/walking. It allows my mind too much room to roam and I end up fighting off thoughts I don't like or want. I know cutting is not the answer, and I know it doesn't mean much to say "but I don't do it often" but the fact is, when nothing else works, and I am completely alone in the dark, crying tears no one will ever see, i need to "feel" something. So, I cut. Nobody knows I do it. Not even my doctor. I don't tell him because I know he would want me do something about it. And, even though its not a tool I use often, it gives me security to know its there. I struggle with perfectionism, mild OCD and control issues and this is one area I have total control over. In fact, it may be the only area.

As for why I feel I deserve punishment, it is because of my overwhelming failure and incompetence in every aspect of my life.

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