Trigger Warning: This post discusses self-harm, and references feeling suicidal.
This post’s focus is the often invisible self-harm that happens without people noticing it, normally. I explore the causes of myself having self-harmed in the past.
See here for help on minimising the harm you do to yourself. Some techniques I’ve found useful are snapping an elastic band against yourself, punching a pillow or sofa or running. Distracting yourself is a good option as it lets the emotions dissipate so you don’t end up harming yourself (see this post). I often count from 1-8 again and again when feeling anxious.
Should you ever want to kill yourself call someone you trust, a service like Samaritans 116 123, your local CRHT (if you have the number), or just 999. If you don’t live in the UK the numbers you have access to will be different.
Self-punishment is a way of trying to cope with some “crime” you feel has been committed by you. It only emphasises the “crime”, and the goal is to make you feel worse as the punishment.
The crime could be an unwanted intrusive thought, or something like fogetting a chore. The action can be tiny, with no-one else aware of it, but to you it feels significant. A rational response would be to acknowledge that it happened, and move on, which is what you have to do in the end.
As the least extreme example (and not in the self-harm category) you could say not watch a series you like on Netflix, or make yourself go to bed early. This just emphasises that you were unhappy with the action, but, as I’ve found, isn’t any good at preventing it in future, as I just obsess over the mistake more.
At the other end of the spectrum you could feel you deserve to die for the action, and take some steps to do that.
Inbetween the two extremes are superficial cuts (where the cut draws blood, but doesn’t need treatment), serious cuts (which need treatment or leave very nasty scars), and burning. Any self-harm can leave a mark.
The main effect of the self-harm is it’s shock value as I find I am now well and truly distracted as I’ve done something worse that the original problem!
This gets out of control for me. As a tolerance develops to the mild self harm, so more extreme self harm is used to get the same shock again. This escalates quickly and is dangerous. I (back when it was a major issue) ended up taking it too far, and ending up in A&E, which persuaded me to stop it for a while, although not forever, the cycle repeated a few times.
It’s not an issue for me at the moment though. After seeing a psychologist I’ve found it easier to accept that I’m OK and that I mess up, but it isn’t such a big deal.
When suffering a mental illness the distress felt can feel like it is inexpressible. So damaging yourself is viewed as an option.
The type of self-harm used and how extreme it is varies between people. I’ve found I tend to ramp up how severe it it is quickly, as I use it as a last resort to vent, and then next last resort is always worse than the previous one. I do know people self-harm regularly, every day a consistent amount without it getting worse over time.
Hitting something soft or smashing ice cubes is a safe way to vent aggressive emotions as it doesn’t cause any damage.
If you’re unbearably sad cozying up in a blanket is a good way to make yourself feel better.
Obsessing over self-harm
Sometimes I find my mind obsessing over self-harm, and I think about a specific way to hurt myself, again, and again, and again; which gets exhasting to just not hurt myself despite my mind thinking about it. For me, at least, this is part of suffering from OCD; what you obsess over can vary massively between different people with OCD, so some people may not even consider it.
Exhasting to just not hurt myself Me
After several days of my mind obsessing over it it can feel easiest to just harm myself to get rid of the thoughts. That’s pretty much what happened today when I cut myself, the worst incident in a while.
The thoughts behind the self harm vary a lot, but the results appear the same, and none of it is ideal. Professionals refer to it as a maladaptive behaviour, as opposed to an adaptive, healthy response.
It can feel like you’re cheating by distracting yourself, or minimising the distress by not self-harming. You’re really not, you’re just coping differently in a way that will last and be usable forever.