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Understanding Self-Harm:

A Guide…

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Self-harm, a term you might have heard but not fully understood. In 2024 and for Self-Harm Awareness Month is an important topic that's all to often gets overlooked or misunderstood. Now is the perfect time to shed light on this issue, providing insights for those who might not be familiar with it.

What Exactly is Self-Harm?

In its simplest terms, self-harm is when someone intentionally injures their own body as a way to cope with emotional pain, stress, or overwhelming situations. It's important to know that while self-harm involves physical injury, it's often not an attempt at suicide. Rather, it's a harmful and unhealthy behavior people use to deal with difficult feelings, thoughts or moments.

Who Does It Affect?

Self-harm is more commonly reported among women, but it affects people of all genders. It's particularly noted among teenagers and young adults, with studies suggesting that a significant number of teens have harmed themselves at some point. Despite these numbers, it's crucial to remember that self-harm can affect anyone, regardless of age or background.

How Do People Self-Harm?

There are many ways someone might self-harm, and it often happens in private. Some of the methods include cutting, skin and hair picking, burning, or hitting oneself. These actions can lead to visible marks or scars, but they're usually not meant as suicide attempts. Instead, they are desperate attempts to deal with emotional distress.

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Many of my patients have also described using self-harm as a form of self-punishment, stemming from deep feelings of guilt or unworthiness. They describe a deep powerful sense of relief. It's a physical manifestation of the critical, harsh judgments they impose on themselves. Additionally, self-harm can be a silent scream for help, a non-verbal way of expressing their inner turmoil when words fail them.

Imagine this:

People from all walks of life can experience this urge, but it's something we often see in teens and young adults. They might secretly cut, burn, pick their skin or their hair or hit themselves, leaving scars, bald spots or marks. These are signs of their silent struggle with emotions too tough to handle.

Why do they do it? Through my years as a therapist, I've learned it's their way of coping with feelings too heavy to carry. Sometimes it's about feeling a sense of control, or they may be punishing themselves because they feel guilty or ashamed. And other times, it's a desperate cry for help when they can't say out loud, "I'm hurting."

If you're worried about someone, the best thing to do is talk to them with an open heart, without judgment. Encourage them to seek professional help. Being there for them, learning about self-harm, and showing compassion can be the support they need to start healing. Remember, asking for help takes courage, and there's plenty of help out there for both those who self-harm and the people who care about them.

In conclusion:

I'm a therapist, and I've journeyed with many through the shadows of their inner battles, where self-harm often lurks unnoticed. If you're worried that someone you love might be hurting themselves, think of yourself as a gentle detective. Look for clues that don't add up, like cuts or burns that they can't quite explain, or a sudden wardrobe shift to long sleeves and pants even when it's warm—armors to shield their scars from the world.

  1. Reach Out: Begin a conversation about self-harm with compassion and without judgment. Let them know you're there to listen, not to blame.
  2. Seek Professional Guidance: Encourage consultation with a mental health professional. Therapists are equipped to offer support and develop healthier coping strategies tailored to individual needs.
  3. Educate and Understand: Invest time in understanding self-harm. Knowledge, coupled with empathy, can significantly impact the support you provide.
  4. Explore Safe Alternatives: Discover and suggest safer coping strategies, such as creative arts, exercise, or journaling to channel emotions constructively.
  5. Build a Support System: Encourage building a network of friends, family, or support groups that can offer a sense of connection and understanding.

Practice Self-Care: Emphasize the importance of self-care, both for the individual struggling and for yourself as a supporter. Self-care is crucial in maintaining the emotional energy needed for this journey.