Sherry is a 45-year-old mom who works part-time from home. Caleb is a 22-year-old who is finding his way through his first full-time job. Sarah is 13 years-old and just starting eighth grade. Although these three seem to lead very different lives, their inner lives are not so different. Sherry, Caleb, and Sarah all face different stressors in their lives, but they have found relief in the same way: cutting. Self-harm is an activity that affects men and women, young and old. For many people, self-harm is a way to feel better or just to feel anything at all.
“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else:
a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”
― Cheryl Rainfield, Scars
People who cut often face difficult life circumstances and the challenging emotions that come with them. Harming themselves may be the best way they know how to cope. Often, the hate and shame they feel or have experienced turns inward, onto themselves. Like most people, they never asked for the challenges that life has thrown at them or the hardship they have faced. Like most people, they are doing what they can to make it day-by-day.
If you or someone you love copes through self-harm, know that Thriveworks Alexandria, VA (Franconia) offers counseling for cutting. Self-harm may be the only way some people know how to survive, but when they are ready to learn new ways, the counselors at Thriveworks are ready to help them.
Various Forms of Self-Mutilation
When most people think about self-harm, they may assume that means cutting, and while cutting is one of many forms of self-mutilation, there are other ways that people injure themselves. Often, people combine different forms of self-mutilation.
Common forms of self-mutilation may include…
- Burning—harming oneself through heat, possibly with matches, hot objects, cigarettes.
- Scratching or cutting—using sharp objects to create lacerations upon the skin.
- Carving, branding, or tattooing—utilizing symbols or pictures or words along with the pain.
- Hitting—punching, biting, picking at oneself.
- Pulling hair—forcibly and painfully removing significant amounts of hair.
- Interfering with a wound—intentionally hindering the healing process.
Often, people’s legs, torso, and arms receive the wounds. Some people may participate in self-mutilation for a few times and then quit. Some people may struggle with harming themselves on a regular and on-going basis.
Risk Factors for Self-Harm
People in a variety of life circumstances and across different socio-economic factors often struggle with self-harm. While anyone can struggle, a few factors may make a person more likely to participate in self-mutilating actions:
- Mental Disorders: When people struggle with a mental illness, they are often at greater risk for also participating in self-injury. For example, people who have borderline personality disorder, depression, a conduct disorder, an autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, phobias, or schizophrenia may be particularly vulnerable to self-harm.
- Psychological Factors: Childhood abuse is often a significant factor when people self-mutilate. Other psychological trials can raise a person’s risk as well, such as bereavement, difficult relationships, unemployment, and poverty.
- Drug or Alcohol Use: Drug and alcohol dependence and withdrawal can increase people’s risk for self-mutilation. One Northern Ireland study found that in over 60 percent of patients who presented for self-harm, alcohol was a significant factor.
Coping Mechanisms and Reaching Out for Help
If self-harm has been the only way you know how to survive, know that you are not alone. Also, know that there are other ways to process emotional pain than through creating physical pain. Healthy coping mechanisms may include…
Connecting with a friend. Take a moment to think about a person who loves you and who will not judge you. What would it look like to talk to them? Tell them that you cut or that you are lonely or that you are scared. There are also support groups with other people who have self-harmed that may provide the care you need.
Avoiding media and movies that may trigger or idealize self-harm. It is okay to protect yourself. It is okay to fill your life with supportive messages and people who want you to recover. It is okay to be safe.
Expressing feelings in constructive ways. Take a walk. Try a yoga class. Learn relaxation techniques. Journal. Call a friend. Your feelings are important, and so is prioritizing a healthy expression of them.
One of the best ways to learn new coping skills is to work with a counselor or therapist. Skilled professionals will be able to identify the root cause of the self-harm and how to heal that wound. Mental health professionals also can point their clients toward the coping mechanisms that may be most effective for their particular situations.
Counseling for Self-Mutilation at Thriveworks Alexandria, VA (Franconia)
As you read through the forms of self-harm and the risk factors, did anything stick out to you or resonate with your experience? The therapists at Thriveworks understand. Learning new coping mechanisms that do not harm one’s own body can feel like an overwhelming or impossible task, but many people are learning to process their pain instead of expressing it upon their bodies.
When you are ready to meet with a counselor, Thriveworks Alexandria, VA (Franconia) is ready too. We offer evening and weekend appointments, and we accept most forms of insurance. Lean upon us while you heal. Contact Thriveworks Alexandria.