A new grandfather wants to retire and spend more time with his family, but he knows that will not happen any time soon. A fourth grader wipes her tears after a day of being bullied, putting on a smile before she gets off the bus and walks home. A recent college grad is working her first job and wondering if this is what her life will be like for the next 40 years. These individuals may not seem to share much in common, but their lives are actually quite similar. Different stressors are weighing them down, but they are handling the emotional pain in the same way—through self-harm.
“It was a way of expressing my own shame of myself on my own body. I was matching the inside to the outside. And there were sometimes where my emotions were just so built up, I didn’t know what to do…” –Demi Lovato
When people have lived through traumatic experiences, the accompanying pain can feel overwhelming, and many people just do what it takes to survive and live day-by-day. Self-harm may be the only way people know how to cope with their experiences and feelings. As Demi explained, the physical wounds are often expressions of emotional wounds.
While self-harm might bring momentary relief as a coping mechanism, it does not heal the emotional pain, and for many people, it can make the emotional pain worse over time. But there is another way, and many people are learning those healthier ways of coping. They are working with a therapist to heal the traumatic experiences and build up new emotional skills.
The counselors, psychologists, and therapists at Thriveworks Boston have walked with clients as they begin to process the pain and shame instead of turning those difficult emotions on their own body. Our professionals have seen tremendous healing and emotional growth as their clients learn a new way to cope and walk away from self-harm.
Signs Someone May Be Using Self-Harm
There are many, various types of self-harm. The most recognizable may be cutting, but people can also burn, brand, pinch, carve, scratch, or tattoo their bodies to inflict physical pain upon themselves. Yanking hair, picking scabs, or undoing stitches are also forms of self-harm. Such behaviors can arise during a particularly traumatic time in a person’s life or they can become a part of their regular routine.
The types of injures people give themselves can differ, and so can the signs they display. Some signs are more telling than others, but if people exhibit one or more of the following behaviors, they may be struggling with cutting…
- Raw and new wounds such as burns, lacerations, bruises, scratches, or cuts.
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, and/or worthless.
- Wearing clothes that completely covers their body—even in warm weather.
- Questioning their identity and purpose.
- Experiencing relational challenges with bosses, friends, family, teachers, and more.
- Owning or having access to knifes, sharp objects, and other weapons that may be utilized in the self-harming process.
- Behavior in an unpredictable or impulsive way.
Why Would Someone Self-Harm?
The answer to why, when, and how people self-harm are usually unique and personal to each individual, and yet, certain experiences or circumstances can raise an individual’s risk for turning to self-injury as a coping mechanism.
Unfortunately, a common denominator of why many people self-harm is psychological pain. Many people have survived emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child. Others have experienced other forms of trauma. Some have dealt with poverty and/or abandonment. These circumstances can trigger psychological pain such as feelings of worthlessness, anger, guilt, panic, rejection, confused sexuality, and/or self-hatred. While processing this pain, people may turn to cutting in the hopes that they will…
- Feel relief from their pain.
- Find help for their panic.
- Be able to control something in their lives.
- Something beyond numbness (for many, feeling physical pain is more comfortable than feeling nothing).
- Express what they have survived.
Self-injury may deliver a fleeting sense of relief, but once the short-term relief fades, the underlying wounds remain. Often, the difficult emotions return—possibly in a more intense form.
What If a Loved One Is Cutting
When a friend or family member may be cutting, know that as their loved one, you may be in a position to help them heal. Speaking up or offering support can feel scary, but it is okay to keep it simple. Often, the best way to care for someone who is struggling with self-harm is to provide an understanding and loving presence in their lives. For example, these forms of support can make a big difference:
- Allow your loved one to talk freely. Lend an ear without judgment. Do not interrupt, lecture, fix, or criticize.
- Vocalize your love: Tell your loved one that you care about them and that you are willing to support their recovery process. If it is appropriate, offer to help them heal in tangible ways—drop off a prescription, find a support group, drive them to a therapy session.
Counseling at Thriveworks Boston for Self-Harm
If you or a loved one is ready to see a therapist, psychologist, or counselor for their self-harm, know that Thriveworks Boston has appointments available. When you call our office, a person will answer the phone and help you schedule your first session—often the follow day. Weekend and evening appointments are available. We also work with most insurance providers and accept most insurance plans.
We are ready to walk with you on a healing journey. Contact Thriveworks Boston today.