Self-harm – taking away the pain

People self-harm because in that moment hurting yourself can take away the pain of strong emotions. As with most coping mechanisms self-harm usually starts with a spur of the moment action and then develops into a way of coping. Because it is usually done in secret and people feel ashamed by what they are doing it leads to greater feelings of stress.  But solving problems by self harming can be dangerous even life threatening if you get it wrong or get an infection. Self-harming can become more extreme and dangerous as you get used of the pain and try to hurt yourself more to get the same relief.

Think about what emotion you are feeling when you want to self-harm and then look at other ways of dealing with that emotion.

If you are feeling angry, frustrated or anxious you probably feel like you have a massive amount of pent up energy (adrenaline) that you don’t know what to do with. Often when people feel like this they sometimes deal with it by being angry towards others or take it out on themselves so that they don’t hurt other people. An alternative is to get rid of this feeling is by doing some intense exercise such as running on the spot, star jumps or punching your pillow/bed. You need to do this for a few minutes until you feel out of breath or exhausted and you will find that it has reduced the adrenaline and your body and you feel a lot better.   If you feel like this regularly you probably need to take up a sport to help control these emotions such as running, martial arts, team sports, boxing etc.

If you are feeling depressed or sad it may help to distract yourself from thinking about your problems. Spend some time with family or friends, read a good book, play a game on the computer/phone, watch something entertaining on TV, look at the funny clips on YouTube, listen to music.

If you want to focus on yourself – then be nice to yourself. Have a nice bath, paint your nails, and use relaxation techniques to focus your thoughts on nice things such as a happy memory or positive plans for the future.

Are you feeling nothing? – Some people self-harm because they feel emotionally numb and want to feel something. There are ways to feel pain without hurting yourself. Try holding an ice cube on the spot you would normally self-harm, wear an elastic band around your wrist and ping it or take a cold bath or shower.

Mindfulness exercises can be really useful to help you focus on the here and now; they can help you to develop concentration skills and self-awareness. We are often so busy that we rush around and never really stop to look at ourselves or the things around us. Take a few minutes to do the exercises below.

Close your eyes and notice the sounds around you, notice how your body feels against the floor or the chair you are sitting on, concentrate on your breathing, focus on the present and not the past or worries about the future.

Look at something that is natural in the environment you live in such as a flower, a tree, the clouds or the stars. Focus all your energy on that object and look at it like it is the first time you have ever seen it. Notice every detail, colour, size, movement etc.

Making changes

If you find that you self-harm at the same time of day or in a particular room make changes so that you are not in that environment when you are most at risk. Plan things to do at those high risk times, be around other people, and throw away the tools that you self-harm with.

The most important thing you can do is talk to someone about how you are feeling, seek support.

Be safe

If you feel that you cannot stop self-harming then take measures to make sure you are safe.

Always use a clean blade if cutting.

Dirty blades will cause infection and infection can kill. Make sure that you clean your skin with soap and water before and afterwards and dress with appropriate clean bandaging or plasters.

Taking an overdose of drugs such as paracetamol can be extremely dangerous if not fatal. Never take more than the recommended dose of medication.

Paracetamol overdoses can have no apparent side effects for 24 hours, however paracetamol in large does is toxic or poisonous to the liver. After 24 hours the damage caused to the liver can result in liver failure and death. If you have taken an overdose of paracetamol you must seek medical advice even if you feel okay at the time.

Ibuprofen overdose can damage your stomach and intestines causing internal bleeding.

Burns are very painful and difficult to care for – see the information from NHS Choices on how to treat burns and when to seek medical help.

Pulling out hair is known as Trichotillomania. If it is done regularly it can lead to bald patches. Some people eat this hair which can cause blockages in the intestines because the human body is unable to break down the hair. This has been known to cause death so it is really important that if you pull hair that you don’t eat it.