I Only Hurt Myself Now and Then – is it Really a Big Deal?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

You occassionally, when you are really upset, hurt yourself. But nobody else knows, and it’s not as if it’s all the time. Should you really be concerned?

What is self-harm?

Self-harm means that you intentionally damage your body’s tissues in some way. Hurting your skin is something you might have heard about already. But self-harm also includes things that involve hurting your inner tissues, such as your stomach lining or internal organs.

What counts as self-harming?

Remember, it’s about intent. We all have accidents and get hurt. But self-harm means you make a decision to do it.

Self harm includes:

  • cutting, bruising, or burning your skin in any way
  • picking at your skin to cause pain
  • anging your body against things
  • making yourself fall
  • ingesting toxic substances in order to make yourself suffer
  • pulling out your hair on purpose to cause pain (unlike WORD, which is compulsive) .

But don’t you have to do it all the time to have a problem?

No. It’s more about why you do it.

If you self-harm whenever your emotions feel too overwhelming, and because it gives you a numbed out feeling you crave? Then you have a problem.

So if you try hurting yourself just once out of curiosity, that’s one thing. But if this is your secret way to deal with feeling upset, you are self-harming and have a problem, even if it's something you only do a few times a month.

Why am I self-harming?

Many self-harmers share that it is their coping method. It’s not that they want to kill themselves, or that they want to be ‘cool’**. It’s just that it seems easier to feel physical pain than emotional pain. When they hurt themselves, the physical pain distracts them from thinking and having upsetting emotions.

This is why self-harm can be addictive for some people. They want to stop, but they crave that numbing feeling, much like an alcoholic or drug user does.

(**That said, there is a rise in self-harming due to internet forums and sites that promote self-harming as cool. It’s not cool. There is nothing cool about damaging your body, possibly for life, or doing something just because someone else does. What’s cool is to think for yourself.)

Why is self-harm such a bad idea?

For a fleeting few minutes of relief, it can have a serious, long-term cost. The scarring that self-harm causes can be for life, and brings many harmers shame and embarrassment when they already suffer from low self-esteem. And if you ingest toxic substances, you can cause internal organ damage or even accidental death.

And think of it this way – each time you hurt yourself you are sending a strong message to your brain and being that you deserve to be hurt. If you were a computer, you are constantly running a bad software. The real result is that you will feel worse and worse about yourself, as any negative belief you already had gets stronger and stronger, and any hope and confidence diminishes.

The inverse of this is that each time you manage to stop and not self harm – to let yourself feel instead, to cry, to find an activity to exit anger safely, like a punching bag, some free flow journalism, or long run? You win. You stop the negative programming and remember you ARE worthy.

I can’t stop hurting myself. What do I do?

Self-harm is connected to other serious issues, like low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and childhood trauma. So often we need help to stop hurting ourselves.

Friends and family can mean well, but they can be hard to talk to about self-harming. They might feel guilty, or not understand it.

A counsellor or therapist, on the other hand, really does understand. They create a safe, non judgmental environment for you to share what you are going through, and help you learn new ways of coping that are helpful instead of hurtful.

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