Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression, suicide
Self-harm is a taboo topic, even in today’s world of acceptance of Pride and no prejudices. When we hear that someone self-harms, 70% of the time, the first reaction we’d have is one of horror. Not even disbelief, pity or anything else, just plain horror, followed by a poor attempt to empathize. Very few of us try to help the person out, mainly because we don’t understand what they’re going through. But that’s just our conditioning. We’ve been taught to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable and go with the crowd. It’s time to have a breakthrough.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm or self-injury means hurting oneself intentionally. Self-harm is not a mental health illness in itself. Rather, it displays an inability of the person affected to cope with a certain illness, most often something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
To the people who self-harm: know this. You are not going through this alone. Self-harm is not something you have to live with all your life, and there are loads of people to narrate their experiences and support you. You need only reach out to seek help.
Why do people self-harm?
There is no scientific answer to this. Some people say they do it to relieve stress. Some others say they do it because the physical pain is better than the mental pain. It is a sign of great emotional distress, and the person is often engulfed by feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, and pain. Some common reasons that people reported include:
- Relapse from alcohol or drug use
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low self-esteem
- Peer pressure
- Family issues
But there is no weakness in asking for help. In fact, it takes great courage to open up and talk about your feelings. If you do feel overwhelmed by these negative feelings, please, reach out to someone.
Who are the people most prone to self-harm?
Though self harm is something that can affect anyone, this practice is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, starting especially from one’s teenage years. People from unstable homes or those who have experienced trauma, neglect, and/or abuse in their early lives are also prone to self-harm.
If you are a loved one of a person who self-harms, it is important to note that self-harm is not a cry of help or a demand for attention. But this does not mean that people who self-harm don’t need care and compassion. When someone opens up about their pain, chances are that it’s not your opinion they seek; it’s your acceptance. A simple smile goes a long way!
How can we fight the urge to self-harm?
While there are no tablets or tonics for it, psychologists and therapists all over the world do commonly recommend some grounding techniques and on-the-spot hacks that can help a person relieve their urge to self-harm.
Some of the most popular grounding techniques prescribed by therapists are:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is a very simple deep-relaxation technique prescribed to reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia, and many other illnesses. Here is how it works:
While inhaling, clench/contract one type of muscle in your body. For example, your biceps, for 5-10 seconds, and then when you exhale, unclench it. After relaxing for 10 seconds, move on to another group of muscles, and repeat the same.
TIP: Try to visualize the contraction and releasing of tension of the muscles in your body, so that it adds more focus to the activity. Also try visualizing all the stress and pain leaving your body with each release of tension. That helps a lot!
- 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is an interesting alternative focus technique. Look around your surroundings and answer the following questions:
- What are 5 things you see (in a particular colour)?
- What are 4 things you feel?
- What are 3 things you hear?
- What are 2 things you smell?
- What is 1 thing you taste?
Other informal mindfulness/grounding techniques you can try include:
- Mental Grounding exercises:
i) Describe an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, in detail, to yourself
ii) Try to think of as many things in one category, like dogs or plants or musicians, as you can! Tests your knowledge, too.
iii) Count 1 to 100, but spell out the alphabets. O…N…E, T…W…O, etc.
- Physical Grounding exercises:
i) Run warm or cool water down the place where you usually self-harm
ii) Alternatively, try to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can
iii) Jump up and down
You can also carry a grounding object with you, a small pen, a rock, a ring, a marble…anything you can touch and take comfort from when you feel frustrated or anxious or stressed. As with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, you can also visualize your object drawing the negative energy away from you, in order for it to be more effective!
Do you feel like you have no one who listens to you? Do you want someone to vent to? Talk to a LonePack Buddy today!