This Saturday, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. This day is dedicated to world wide mental health awareness, education and advocacy; with a focus on seeking help, reducing stigma and encouraging connectedness. I’ve chosen to write about self harm. I have found there is a lot of secrecy and shame around this painful topic. I wish more people could talk about it. Then maybe together we could find some other ways to express that pain and nurture ourselves.
What is self harm?
Self harm is when someone deliberately hurts themselves. This could be by cutting their body, burning themselves, punching or hitting themselves, pulling out hair or scratching and picking their skin until it bleeds. Self harm is a way some people cope with painful or distressing emotions – such as depression, anxiety, grief, trauma or abuse. Self harm is usually private and done in secret, rather than to ‘get attention’. In fact, many people feel shame if someone finds out. Scars can also be a source of shame and people often wear clothes and jewellery to cover those areas. Fear of the scars being exposed may also mean some people stop doing certain activities they love – for example swimming. Scars can also make some people anxious about becoming intimate with a new person or starting a relationship.
There are many reasons why people choose to harm themselves. For you – or someone you know – it may be so that you can feel something, rather than nothing. Or it might be how you transform your emotional pain into physical pain, that feels more manageable for you. Maybe you worry that your problems and what you feel are not legitimate or ‘serious enough’ so you harm yourself to have something concrete – a wound that shows that you really are hurting deeply. Or your reason may be something completely different. It may be the only way you have learned to give yourself some relief from your emotional pain.
Understanding Self Harm: Headspace
What are your triggers? Have you noticed that you are more likely to self harm when you have particular thoughts? After you’ve seen certain people? At certain times of the day, night or week? If you spend too much time alone? Or when you have certain memories? It can be helpful to know what triggers you – when, where and under what circumstances you are more likely to feel the urge. When you are aware of your triggers, you have more of a chance to support yourself.
Harming your self, is to turn feelings of hurt inward, rather than expressing it outward. It is directing painful energy toward self, rather than expelling it out into the world.
What would it be like to express your feelings outwardly? Have you ever tried it? Although self harming is one way of coping, there are many other ways that may also bring you a sense of relief.
What are some other ways you could support yourself with your pain? The answer to this will be different for everyone.
Some possibilities are:
• Move your body – run, dance, jump, walk, yoga, swim.
• Connect – talk to someone, see someone, be with someone.
• Creativity – draw, cook, paint, sew, photograph, build, design.
• Gratitude – through the haze of your emotions and pain, what is there to be grateful for? A cup of tea? A sunset? A good friend? A soft pillow? A blue sky? Find one thing every day.
• Get into nature – the beach, the river, a bush walk, sit in the park, lay on the ground and stare at the sky.
• Draw, write or scribble on your body in the place you want to hurt.
• Eat a chilli or hold ice as a way to feel pain.
• Write it down – get it all out onto the page. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, just write and write and write whatever comes without editing yourself. Write a letter you never send to someone you’re upset with – get your thoughts and feelings out, instead of holding them in.
• Be good to your body – feed yourself nourishing foods, stretch, breathe slowly and deeply, rest.
• Meditate or do some mindfulness exercises – smiling mind, buddhify (check out the links at the end).
• Immerse your senses – smell essential oils, listen to music, soak in a bath, plunge your hands into a bag of rice and feel the grains through your fingers.
• Express what you are feeling – kick, yell, tear, break, scribble, scream, throw (without hurting yourself or others – use pillows if you need to control noise or for padding). Then breathe. In and out, slow, deep breaths.
What is your self harm trying to tell you? You could ask yourself these questions:
If you directed that energy out instead of in, who – or what – would you want to direct it at?
What do you need right now that you’re not getting?
If you had a sweet, young brother/sister/cousin/friend who was self harming, what would you want for them? Can you give that same thing to yourself? What would that be like?
Getting Help: References and Links
If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, please contact someone who can help.
To make an appointment or enquiry with Toni Jackson, please call 0439 995 302 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Toni Jackson is a creative Counsellor and Psychotherapist in Perth, Fremantle and Mundaring, Western Australia. She has worked over the past 20 years in the areas of women and adolescent mental health and wellbeing, counselling adults, adolescents, children and families from many different backgrounds. Toni uses counselling, psychotherapy, art therapy and mindfulness to support her clients’ unique needs. Toni specialises in working with women and adolescents who are experiencing anxiety, depression, self esteem and eating disorders.
Toni’s qualifications include a BA Psychology, Grad Dip Women’s Studies and accreditation as a Psychotherapist (GT). tonijacksoncounselling.com
Photo credit: diegodiazphotography / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND