How to recognise the feelings and difficulites which may lead to self-harm and develop new ways to support yourself.
What do we mean by self-harm?
Self-harm is a deliberate act done to hurt, harm or injure yourself. It takes many forms. It can be a spontaneous act in which you inflict injury to your body but it also includes damaging behaviour which slowly impacts on your physical and mental health such as smoking, drinking, over working or eating badly.
There are many reasons given for why people self-harm including:
- Release of anger which they are afraid to express externally;
- Release of physiological tension;
- To counteract emotional pain;
- A distraction from how they feel inside;
- To punish themselves;
- To cleanse themselves;
- To get back at others;
- To escape numbness;
- To feel alive and take back control;
- to remove "the badness".
Often people who self-harm repeatedly may have underlying reasons for doing so such as traumatic experiences in their past which are largely buried but can emerge again during difficult times and become unbearable.
They usually self-harm in private with few people knowing that they do it. Trying to persuade someone to stop by exacting promises, contracting or offering rewards or alternative strategies for dealing with stress can paradoxically result in further self-harm. Self-harm is not an unfortunate habit that must be broken. It cannot be separated off and treated in isolation.
Are you ready to stop?
Some people are not ready to stop self-harming. It may be that you feel at the moment that it helps you to cope. If that is the case then it is important that you look after yourself and take care of your injuries.
- Use something clean and sterile if you are cutting;
- Never share needles or cutting tools with anyone else;
- Clean any wounds, no matter how small, to stop them becoming infected - just ordinary tap water will do;
- If you think a wound might be infected or an injury hasn't healed, see a nurse or doctor as soon as possible;
- Even if you don't feel ready to stop yet, it is important to talk to someone you trust and see if you can begin to explore different ways to cope with your feelings.
There is always help
If you would like an appointment with the University Counselling Service, please contact us either by calling in, telephone or via email:
The University Counselling Service
14 Oxford Street
Tel: 0151 794 3304
- National Self-Harm Network ~ Helps people who self-harm or injure as a way of coping with life's ups and downs. www.nshn.co.uk
- BBC - Health - Conditions - Self-Harm ~ Provides ways to manage self-harm and links to other organisations (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1LJd4YvhLTnLRH7WgF8pypJ/self-harm)
- Life Signs - Self Injury Guidance and Network Support ~ A UK based voluntary organisation offering information, support and a message board (www.selfharm.org)
Helping yourself to stop
Step One : Recognising your own pattern
There are times when all of us can feel more lonely or vulnerable than others. It is during these low times that you may be more susceptible to the temptation to hurt yourself.
Low times often include evenings, night time, weekends, anniversaries, Christmas or other dates particularly significant to you. Times of upheaval and change, times of illness or pre or during a menstrual period, or times, even holidays, when you are away from your usual routine or supports can also be significant.
Knowing when you are at your most vulnerable and identifying what your feelings are before you self-harm will be really important in helping you to make changes.
Step Two : Responding to the desire to hurt yourself
- If you feel you want to self-harm, give yourself permission but impose a 15 minute waiting time first. When that time is up, re-assess. Try and wait another 15 minutes;
- Use the time to write in a journal, exercise, call a friend, listen to music, or any other way to distract yourself;
- Even if you do end up hurting yourself, recognise the progress you made by delaying the act;
- Stay in company. People who self-harm usually do it privately so stay with people and avoid other people who self-harm;
- Remove any materials that you use to hurt yourself;
- Avoid drugs, caffeine and alcohol. These create mood swings;
- Try phoning a telephone helpline such as The Samaritans if you are not quite ready to talk to someone face to face.
Step Three : Find a therapist who will help you to understand your self-harming behaviour
People who self-harm find it relieves their anguish but not everyone is sure what the particular reasons are for their self-harming behaviour.
- By exploring with someone the incidents and events in your life that have caused you pain, it is possible to understand more about how deeply you have been affected by things and you can then start to find other ways to relieve yourself of the pain;
- This can also lead to an understanding that you were not to blame for things in your past and you can begin to let go of feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness.
Step Four : Developing long-term lifestyle changes
Your therapist will also support you to make changes in how you respond to present problems and relationship difficulties. These may include:
- Practicing communicating your feelings rather than hiding them;
- Telling people when you are angry with them and expressing your anger directly;
- Finding new ways to get your anger out such as vigorous or creative activities;
- Exploring new ways to calm, soothe and comfort yourself such as relaxation, meditation, playing or listening to music, exercise;
- Learning to nurture and reward yourself;
- Learning to let someone you trust comfort you when you feel upset;
- Altering your lifestyle so that you eat healthily and sleep regularly and build exercise into your life.