“Sometimes when I feel all stressed out I use something to cut my arm or I bite myself until I bleed. Suddenly the tension is gone and I start to feel better. What’s wrong with me?”
What you have described is called “self-injury,” causing deliberate harm to your own body. It’s also described as cutting, carving, scratching, branding or marking. Sometimes people also injure themselves by pulling out their hair, burning themselves, biting themselves, banging their head on a wall, hitting themselves, causing bruising in some way, or preventing wounds from healing. If you are doing any of these, you are not alone. It happens every day in your school, among your friends and fellow students. And, yes, it’s different than body piercing, a fairly harmless fad among teens.
Harming your own body doesn’t mean you’re crazy, weird, or that something is terribly wrong with you. The truth is, people who intentionally harm themselves are in a lot of emotional pain. Self-injury is not a suicidal act. Sometimes it is a way of getting others to respond with care or concern for you. Negative attention is certainly better than getting no attention at all when you are hurting.
Whatever your reason may be for wanting to hurt yourself, the truth is that you’ve got upset feelings and don’t have a healthy way to express them. Is this what you have been saying to yourself?
“I feel rejected. My boyfriend said he loved me, then he dumped me.”
“I had a fight with my best friend. Now who can I talk to?”
“I feel totally alone.”
“I feel abandoned.”
“I feel anxious. I don’t know what to do with my feelings.”
“I feel so bad. I hate myself.”
“I feel so sad. Doesn’t anyone care about me?”
“I feel guilty. It’s all my fault. I’m to blame and I want to punish myself.”
“I never mattered to anyone. I can’t remember feeling special or loved by anyone.”
“I feel so angry I could kill someone.”
“I feel crazy, insane, evil.”
“I feel depressed.”
“I feel hopeless.”
“I feel worthless.”
“I feel dead inside. I want to feel something, anything, even pain, so I know that I’m still alive.”
If that’s how you feel , is it any wonder you are hurting yourself? Self-injury is actually an attempt to escape this intolerable emotional pain. It may happen only once, or it may become a pattern of behavior whenever you get upset. But it is never a healthy way to deal with your pain.
Do you want to know the real causes of your inner emotional pain? Experts have come up with at least five things that you may have experienced that will make you feel bad enough to do this. Are you ready to hear this? Listen carefully, because none of these are your fault.
(1) You have been physically or emotionally abused.
(2) You have been physically or emotionally neglected. Your parents have been emotionally absent in your life. You may even feel abandoned.
(3) You are growing up in chaotic or violent family conditions.
(4) You come from a broken or alcoholic home.
(5) The most likely of all kids to self-injure are those who have been sexually abused.
These five incredibly horrible, undeserved reasons cause deep hurt, pain, guilt, shame, and endless inner torture. (I know, because I grew up in an abusive home.) I want you to see that you didn’t deserve to grow up this way. It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. You must find a way to stop hurting yourself for something that others are responsible for doing to you.
You may think it’s hopeless, but it ‘s not. If you found out your best friend was self-injuring, wouldn’t you want to help him or her? Would you have the courage to tell someone? What about yourself? You deserve to be helped, too. Don’t ever make a friend promise that they won’t tell anyone. Give them permission to tell or ask them to go with you for help.
If your parents are part of the problem, it may not be safe to talk to them. Your friend may understand your pain, but not know how to help you. Self-injury has a lot of feeling of embarrassment and shame connected with it. You need to talk about these feelings with a trusted person, such as your school nurse or school counselor, your family physician, a therapist, or other professional. They can help you understand why you are hurting yourself. They can help you find a way out of your pain. Take this article with you to help you get started.
There are many healthy ways of dealing with your inner pain, rather than hurting yourself or someone else. This may be difficult to begin before you talk to someone though. You may need someone to show you what will help. Then try some of the following suggestions and see which ones work for you.
One excellent way is to write about your feelings in a journal. Try to describe your pain. Just get the hurt out on paper. Write down why you want to hurt yourself, or why you did hurt yourself. Write a letter to the person who has caused you so much pain. You don’t have to send it. Write down all your own positive points and why you don’t deserve to be hurt.
Another way to express your pain is through artwork or drawing. Draw a picture of what is making you angry, or sad, or hurt. You can also use paint, clay, or play-dough to show how you feel inside.
Music is often soothing. Take note of what kind of music you listen to. It needs to help you feel better, not worse.
Allow yourself to cry, even if others have told you not to. Crying washes out your “heart” and gets rid of all that “poison” that is hurting you.
If you’re feeling violent or aggressive, and yet don’t want to hurt yourself, try one of these: punch a bed or pillow (if you don’t have a punching bag,) Scratch draw a picture on a thick piece of wood, or use a screwdriver and stab at the piece of wood. (Not your parent’s good furniture!) Clutch a pen and scribble really hard on several layers of paper. It will help to release the tension.
Try wearing an elastic around your wrist and snapping it against your skin whenever you have the urge to seriously harm yourself. It hurts, but doesn’t damage your skin. Some people find it helpful to draw red lines on themselves with washable markers instead of cutting themselves. Others hold an ice cube in their hand, which causes pain, but is not harmful.
Then sit down and write out a list of reasons why you’re going to stop hurting yourself. Note that you are important and special and don’t deserve to be hurt. It’s not your fault.
If you are self-injuring, or know of someone who is, talk to someone you trust. You don’t have to live with this kind of physical and emotional pain the rest of your life. I care about how you’re hurting inside. I used to hurt, too, but I have found peace. E-mail me at email@example.com when you have decided to get some help.