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The Concept of Self Harm and How to Deal With It

Self harm includes any form of injury or poisoning to a person that is self inflicted. Despite the implied connotation, it is not really related to suicidal tendencies as the intention of the person is not to kill themselves. It is not an end itself but rather a means to an end, implying that the deliberate injuring of one self is not the final problem but just a symptom of an even much bigger problem.

Self harm involves:

  • Embedding, where the person pierces their own skin and leaves the foreign body inside them.
  • Cutting or self mutilation which involves cutting of the skin surface usually to draw blood.
  • Some people have also been known to involve in dangerous painful activities such as extreme exercises or extreme sports.
  • And ingesting of harmful substances that are bound to cause pain.

It should be noted that despite this harmful behavior, the person has no desire to die but rather to feel pain. Another issue is for people to assume that a person who does this is seeking attention or is crazy, actually they are not. Instead, this is their way of dealing with whatever issues are troubling them while maintaining their sanity and they try as much as possible to hide it from the rest of the world.

Some reasons have been put forward as to why people would want to inflict physical pain on themselves and today we explore some of them.

  • People who were abused as children, especially sexual abuse, may become cutters as teenagers. This results from a feeling of hate for their bodies and the desire to punish themselves for what they may perceive as their fault. Abuse among children is a very dangerous occurrence and it can lead to unprecedented behavior with self hate being one of them.
  • The mind is a strange place, and perception is reality. Just like any other drug, pain too can be addictive. Some people are known to use it as a way of controlling strong emotions such as when dealing with stress. Inducing pain then acts as a sort of stress reliever for the person and allows them to calm down, i.e. it soothes the nerves driving away the stress.
  • Others rather deal with physical pain than emotional pain. It can be panic attacks, past trauma, anxiety, depression, anger or just the need to fill something than the empty hole in one’s soul. The physical pain, while it lasts, will keep the person distracted and less focused on the emotional pain that they find impossible to face. Some people feel dead inside and as a way of confirming that they are still alive the injure themselves, the pain and blood proves to them that they are still alive despite feeling numb.

A person who self injures is likely to have an increase in ‘accident’, change in eating habits, wears clothes covering every part of their body even in extreme heat, and may exhibit signs of depression. However, all is not lost and these people can be helped and made better. The key is to find out the proper way to deal with the situation so as not to make it worse.

  • Find out the reason why you are injuring yourself or why someone is injuring themselves. Knowing the reason behind the need for pain and treating it directly will deal with the consequent desire to hurt oneself.
  • If you are the help provider, do not judge the person but rather try to understand what drives them to seek out pain. We are not saying that you should condone the behavior but that you should avoid making that person feel guilty about what they are doing to themselves. This will only succeed in pushing them further back into their shell and encourage the behavior.
  • Most self injurers are lonely and what they need more than anything else is a friend, try to be this to them and it may go a long way in helping them cope. Be as supportive as possible and encourage them to deal with their feelings directly rather than hiding behind the physical pain.
  • And finally, as one out to offer help, whatever your opinions about deliberate self harm, keep them to yourself. At this point, your opinions do not matter and will only make the situation worse. It is best to allow this person to come out of their shell while gently guiding them into a healthier way of dealing with life that does not involve life threatening self inflicted harm.

While self harm is an illness that bothers mostly teenagers since they are the least able to deal with trauma, it has also been known to occur in the older generation where it is even more dangerous. This rarity among the old is good because their bodies are less likely to survive all this abuse as the cells do not regenerate at the same pace as for the young adults.

If you know someone who has this problem or are the one with the problem, it is best to see a psychiatrist and deal with whatever is causing your need to feel such deep pain.

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