Greg is a 52-year-old who shows up at his job on time every day and is always “doing fine.” Jenny is a 23-year-old recent college grad who is holding down her first full time job and first real apartment. Reed just started eighth grade at a new school and hopes he will not be bullied there. The outside appearance of the lives that these individuals lead seem as divergent as possible, but they share a very similar inner, emotional reality. The stressors that are pushing down upon them vary, but Greg, Jenny, and Reed are handling them in the same way—through cutting. Women and men, old and young can engage in self-harm as a way of coping with difficult realities. When many people mutilate their own bodies, they are seeking a way to feel relief, gain control, or simply feel anything at all.
“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
People who engage in self-harm have often faced excruciating life challenges, and they may live with the intense emotions that accompany trauma, victimization, poverty, and more. Many people do not know another way than cutting to express and to cope with these feelings. They did not ask for their life circumstances, but they are doing what they know to put one foot in front of the other.
If you have cut or harmed your body through another form of self-mutilation, you are not alone. Thriveworks Charlotte provides therapy for people who self-harm. Our professionals know that mutilation may have been the only way you knew how to cope in the past, but we have also seen people learn new forms of emotional expression.
Signs of Self-Inflicted Wounds
Cutting is probably the most well-known form of self-harm, but the reality is that self-harm can take many forms. For example, when battling difficult emotions, people who struggle with self-mutilation may burn, scratch, cut, carve, brand, or pinch themselves. They may even pull out their hair or pick at wounds, preventing them from healing. Some individual self-harm for a small period of time and then move onto other coping mechanism while others injure themselves regularly.
Because the form of self-harm can vary, so can the symptoms that someone is participating in it. Signs may include:
- Wearing clothes that cover the wounds—long pants and jackets.
- Fresh wounds—bruises, cuts, scratches.
- Access to or possession of objects or weapons used to self-harm.
- Difficult relationships.
- Questions about one’s identity.
- Experiencing hopeless, helpless, or worthless feelings.
What Causes People to Harm Themselves?
Why, when, and how people participate in self-injury is usually very personal and unique. Nonetheless, there are certain factors that may make self-injury more appealing or more likely.
One contributing factor to self-harming behavior is psychological pain. Often, people who burn, cut, and scratch themselves are facing intense difficulty. Maybe they have been abused as a child. Maybe they were neglected. Maybe they are living in poverty. Whatever the specific circumstances may be, the experiences have triggered psychological pain such as panic, worthlessness, guilt, confused sexuality, loneliness, anger, rejection, or self-hatred. Self-harm may be the only way people who face such trauma know how to…
- Distract themselves from the pain
- Relieve their anxiety.
- Gain control of a situation.
- Feel any emotion—even physical pain—instead of numbness.
- Communicate their emotions to anyone who will pay attention.
- Punish themselves for their perceived faults.
What If Someone I Love Is Cutting?
If friends and family members suspect someone they love is coping with life through self-injury, then there are many things they can do to support their loved one. Being a calm, loving presence in the life of someone who cuts could be just the healing they need.
If you suspect a child, friend, spouse, parent, or loved one may be cutting, consider the following tips for how to be a supportive presence in their lives:
- Seek understanding without judgment: criticizing, yelling, threatening, or accusing may make the self-injury worse. Instead, offer to listen supportively.
- Affirm your love and support for them: Tell them that you care about them. Do not try to change their behavior, but offer support as they are willing. Forms of tangible support may include finding a therapy group, locating a counselor, or offering encouragement as they learn different coping skills.
- Encourage treatment: If the loved one is pursuing recovery, encourage it in anyway appropriate. Pick up their medications, offer a ride to therapy, help them remove blades, matches, ropes, or any items that may tempt them to self-harm.
Counseling and Therapy for Self-Injury at Thriveworks Charlotte
Did you recognize any of the causes or signs of self-harm? If you or someone you love is injuring themselves in any way, know that the counselors at Thriveworks Charlotte understand what it is like not to know another way of expressing the pain. Our mental health professionals have helped many people learn how to put words and actions to their pain in a way that brings life and expresses hope. If you are ready to learn new ways of coping, we are ready to support you in that journey.
When you call to make an appointment at Thriveworks Charlotte, you may be meeting with your therapist the following day. We offer evening and weekend appointments, and we work with most insurance companies. Let’s heal together. Call Thriveworks Charlotte.