Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Although the word might draw images of young girls fueled with teenage angst, self-harm affects woman and men of all ages, races and backgrounds. According to Mental Health America, it’s estimated that about 2 million people in the United States injure themselves, sometimes as a way to express or deal with emotional pain.

We asked people in our community who’ve engaged in self-harm what they wish people understood about this often misunderstood and hidden practice. If you or a loved one self-harms, you should know you’re not alone, treatment is available and you should never be afraid to reach out for help.

Here’s what people who self-harm wish others understood:

1.I don’t do it to get attention, I do it to avoid attention.”

I don't do it to get attention, I do it to avoid attention.

2. “When you’re recovering/recovered, the urge to self-harm doesn’t just go away. It’s not something you just decide to quit one day. Recovery is a continual effort.”

3. “I don’t do it because I want to. I do it because in that moment I have a terrifying lack of control.”

4. “It becomes an addiction.”

5. “My history of self-harm doesn’t make me weak or ‘crazy.’”

My history of self-harm doesn't make me weak or 'crazy.'

6. “Men self-harm, too. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

7. “I don’t yearn for attention. Actually I’d rather no one knew because then they’d never look at me the same again.”

8. “I know harming myself doesn’t make sense.”

SHw3 copy

9. “Not all self-harm consists of the stereotypical horizontal razor slashes.”

10. “Unless you’ve been in that moment and had that internal struggle, you can’t understand what it’s like to feel like you’re losing yourself and losing control.”

11.My scars don’t define who I am now, but they are a part of my past.”

My scars don't define who I am now, but they are a part of my past.

12. “It’s not fun. It’s not glamourous. It’s not just a teenage girl issue.”

13. “I don’t do it to hurt others.”

14. “My self-harm isn’t romantic or edgy. It’s a result of a lot of mental/emotional suffering.”

My self harm isn't romantic or edgy.

15. “Please don’t call me a ‘cutter.’ I’m more than my coping mechanism.”

16. “Self-harm doesn’t mean I’m suicidal. It doesn’t mean I want to die. If medical professionals understood this, then maybe more people could get help.”

17. “I battle the thoughts of self-harm most days, and the scars that you see on the outside represents the scars I carry on the inside.”

"The scars that you see on the outside represents the scars I carry on the inside.."

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

Related: 8 Brutally Honest Reasons I’ve Stopped Self-Harming

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My work on the topic of self-harm has focused on children and adolescents. The “epidemic” of self-harm faced by our schools is constant fodder for our tabloids, and led to me traveling frantically around the United Kingdom trying to meet the demand for my expertise. I was once a child who self-harmed, too. I could relate from personal experience. It was in the dim and distant past, but I got it.

But what I never stopped to think about was the issue of adult self-harm. We know that the demographics are changing, that younger and younger children are hurting themselves. But adults.? No. This is not something that affects them, is it?

Wrong. So very wrong.

As I share my story, I’m finding I’m far from alone. There are a lot of other adults out there who are using self-harm to manage their thoughts and feelings, too. Some of them have done it since childhood – or like me have reverted to a coping mechanism of old. Others have discovered self-harm as a fully-fledged adult.

But we’re not talking about it.

Why? I think it’s because this is not our territory. Self-harm is seen as the domain of the 14-year-old emo girl. We are no more likely to bare our arms and our souls than we are to replace our “grown up clothes” with a Slipknot hoody and a badly rolled spliff. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We’ve grown up and out of it. Right?

And so we all paint this picture and try to adhere to it, leaving adults who self-harm with nowhere to go. No one to ask, no one to offer them support. I found when I talked openly from my professional podium about my self-harm, I opened the flood gates for a wide range of adults to come forward and tell me, “Me too.”

The relief in the messages I receive is palpable. Other adults realize they’re not the only ones, and in a way I feel relieved, too. Despite my knowledge on the topic, I felt like perhaps I was the only adult in the room who was overcoming this battle – because it’s so different than being a younger self-harmer. As an adult we have responsibilities, which give rise to big questions: What do we tell our children? Do we need to tell our employer? Are we safe unsupervised? How much can we share with our partner?

There are so many questions yet to be explored. I’m an expert in self-harm in children and adolescents, and while the field evolves and changes and I’m learning all the time, I feel confident answering questions on that topic. But the world of adult self-harm feels like an undiscovered underworld. There are lots of questions to which I don’t know the answer yet. My personal journey will help, of course, but it’s just one story. If we’re to equip others with the support and advice they need, then it needs to be a team effort.

So what points am I meandering to here? I guess, in summary, there are three things to say. Firstly, self-harm is not a behavior confined to children and young people. It’s afflicting plenty of adults, too. Secondly, as adults, we feel scared or ashamed of sharing our self-harm. We fear we’ll lose our children, our jobs or our partners if we’re open about it, so these painful stories go untold. Finally, self-harm is not easy to fix. For some of us it becomes a deeply embedded coping mechanism which is unlikely to be overcome without appropriate support and help.

But my main point, the point I hope some of you will have the confidence, self-assurance, support or bloody mindedness to follow through on, is that we need to talk about it. Let’s stop adult self-harm from cowering in a corner, left unseen and misunderstood. Let’s be open and honest and help each other move forward. This is not something we should feel ashamed about – it’s hard to be honest because many people simply do not understand. But, and this is a big but, they will never understand unless we help them. If we share our stories, if we educate those around us and if we stand unafraid in the face of judgment and say, “I hurt and it shows, but I want it to stop,” then those with strength will not judge, will not walk away, will not shame us. They will step forward, they will take our hand, they will listen and they will learn.

People can be surprising if you let them.

Follow this journey on In Our Hands.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Editor’s note: This piece includes graphic imagery that some may find upsetting.

Jordan Supple posted a photo on Facebook on Nov. 10 showing scars on her arm from years of self-harm. The 24-year-old had an equally powerful message to go along with the image.

“Warning for teenagers/young adults. Look at this photo; this is my arm, for the rest of my life,” Supple wrote. She went on to detail how her cutting had an impact on both her and her loved ones’ lives.

“So teenagers, please…if you are sitting there alone contemplating putting that razor to your body remember that these cuts will last a lifetime but the pain doesn’t,” she added in her Facebook post. “Talk to mum and dad, they might understand more than you think, find a cool teacher at school and have a chat. You’re never ever alone.”

Warning for teenagers/young adults.Look at this photo; this is my arm, for the rest of my life.When I go to the…

Posted by Jordan Supple on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Supple, from from New South Wales, Australia, told UK website Metro.com she’s since received hundreds of messages from people dealing with similar struggles. Her post has gotten more than 20,000 likes and 13,000 shares.

Supple became depressed around the age of 13, and after being hospitalized and working out a treatment plan that included medication and therapy, she finally learned how to handle stress. “My life now is good,” she told Metro. “I have a supportive family and friends. I feel positive about life and there is always hope for better and greater things.”

Oh hey! ?

Posted by Jordan Supple on Friday, June 19, 2015

“I wrote the post because I felt like teenagers needed some hope,” Supple concluded. “They have so many pressures these days and no one is speaking out about the issue. I wanted to give hope to those out there suffering and I really think I’ve achieved that.”

Read Supple’s message in its entirety below:

Warning for teenagers/young adults.

Look at this photo; this is my arm, for the rest of my life.
When I go to the register at the shops the check-out lady stares, meeting new people they see it, my potential new boss questions, my 4 year old niece asks why my arm is weird… walking through life now as a happy 24 year old I just wish I could tell my 13 year old self holding that razor that things do and WILL get better.

My mother shed tears as I was found bleeding on the bathroom floor, my mother watched as the doctors stitched my arms so many times… my families heart would break when I wouldn’t take a jumper off on a 40 degree day because I couldn’t show my arms.

I know being a teenager is hard, school sucks, parents are lame and it feels like no one understands but there are people that do understand and life has so much to give you.

So teenagers, please…if you are sitting there alone contemplating putting that razor to your body remember that these cuts will last a lifetime but the pain doesn’t. Talk to mum and dad, they might understand more than you think, find a cool teacher at school and have a chat.

You’re never ever alone.
Please share & like to get the message out there.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


Please note, this piece includes graphic imagery that some may find upsetting.

There are many lists, articles, conversations and every other form of communication about why you shouldn’t self-harm. If you’ve ever hurt yourself and someone found out, you’ve probably been subject to a litany of reasons.

Some people find the generic lists on the Internet extremely helpful, but I’ve never been particularly convinced when I’m in a bad place. That’s because most of these well-intentioned pieces make the assumption I believe in my own self-worth. When I want to hurt myself, I’m rarely in a state of mind that recognizes that. I suspect I’m not alone.

At this point, I’ve mostly kicked the habit of self-harm, and I want to share what’s worked for me. So here is my list — a real list — of honest to God reasons I’ve stopped.

1. Hiding scars 

Dealing with mental illness is fairly exhausting, partly due to all the extra things you have to think about on a daily basis. When you cut yourself or hurt yourself in any other way, it tends to leave a mark or a scar. Generally, you’re going to have to cover up them up. Speaking from experience, this is a huge pain in the butt. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s scary. What if I reach up to get something at work and my shirt rides up? There are scars there. What if someone sees? Would my job be in jeopardy?

I find myself deeply worried about summertime. Can I ever wear clothes I’m actually cool enough in if I have to cover my legs? Can I ever go swimming again? What if I trigger someone else with my own body? I can’t wear many of the clothes I used to love, and it is expensive to buy a new wardrobe that covers all the potential danger sites. When you’re about to pull out the razor — think. One action could mean months of exhausting thought and careful covering to make sure you never expose yourself.

2. It’s a serious mess.

I’ll admit it’s a smaller reason, but this one sticks with me. While I can’t speak for other forms of self-harm, cutting is messy. Blood gets everywhere. It gets on everything. Unless you have a serious supply of bandages, it’s nearly impossible to get things to stop bleeding when you want to move on with your life and do other things. That means ruined clothing, ruined bedsheets, blood on your computer or blood on your books and notebooks. There is really no experience in my life that has felt more disgusting than going to bed on blood-stained sheets. When I’ve made it past the overwhelming emotion and my safe places have been literally stained with blood, it’s a special feeling of disgust I can’t shake. It’s fairly horrible. Your actions now do have effects later on.

3. The day after. 

Speaking of residual effects, let’s talk about what it feels like to wake up the day after you’ve hurt yourself. When you’re in the moment, the pain is often the point. It serves a purpose. But the next morning you try to get out of bed and your body burns. You shower and the cuts hurt like hell. You go about your daily life, but little things remind you your body is mad at you. You try to work out and the cuts say “No, no, no!” The pain isn’t sexy anymore. It’s not doing anything. It’s just making you miserable.

4. Your loved ones. 

Some time ago while I wasn’t doing well, my boyfriend did something I’ll never forget. We were talking about how my self-harm felt to him, and he went to the freezer and took out the ice. He filled a bowl with ice water and then stuck his hand in. If you’ve never done this, it hurts. I asked him what he was doing and he didn’t answer. He just left his hand there. I could see the pain on his face. I got agitated telling him to stop, asking why he was doing it, desperately trying to pull his hand out of the bowl of ice water as his face contorted further and further. I didn’t understand why he was doing something so pointless, and it was hurting me to watch him in pain.

Finally he pulled his hand out. I was on the verge of tears. He looked at me and said, “That’s what it feels like when you cut.”

Maybe it doesn’t make sense that it hurts other people when we hurt ourselves, but we can’t deny that it does. We may want to tell ourselves our self-harm is between us and the razor blade, but that’s simply false — it has an impact on other people, too. If you can’t prioritize your own health and safety, prioritize the people in your life you’re hurting.

5. So much wasted energy. 

Self-harm takes a lot of emotional energy. It takes time. I often did it at night when I was feeling like crap or when I was finally alone. It cuts into time we could be rejuvenating ourselves, sleeping and resting. Lately when I feel emotionally overwhelmed or in a place where I might have cut in the past, I look at the razor blade and think of how exhausted I’ll be after I force myself through the whole production. I think of how miserable work will be the next day after having denied myself the opportunity to rest. Just the thought of dragging my drained body out of bed in the morning is sometimes enough to stop me.

6. It limits your life. 

There are many things I’ve chosen not to do because of cutting, and there are many things I haven’t been able to do because of cutting. More often than not, they’re completely unrelated to my mental health. I love to swim, and I’ve had to cut it out of my life for decent chunks of time thanks to the open cuts I had. If the attire required for an activity is at all revealing, I’m out. I’ve avoided rock climbing because the harness bit into my cuts. You don’t think about all the little ways you’ll be limited when you’re hiding your body and hurting, but it will damage your life in unexpected ways.

7. It stops working.

No one self-harms for no reason. It does something for each of us. We wouldn’t do it otherwise. But, it’s not an effective long-term strategy. From my experience, after a while, you need to do more and more to get the same effects. And eventually, it stops working completely. No matter how long you endure it, it won’t make things right.

8. The itching. 

Yes, one of my biggest reasons to stop cutting is that it itches like hell. I can’t explain it to people who don’t have scarring across their bodies, but every day I find myself trying to rip off my skin because it itches so badly. I have scars on my stomach, and sometimes I wish something would just break it open — crawl out alien-style — because even that would be better than the constant, almost painful itching. Seriously. Nothing is worth that. Some of the scars that make me itch like that are years old. I don’t know if the itching will ever stop. Imagine the rest of your life plagued by neverending itches. This is hell. Don’t do it to yourself. Choose the happier option. Don’t cut.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


unnamed-1 Without looking closely, this picture doesn’t seem particularly exciting or interesting. Sure, the leaves are beautifully green and I’m smiling in a truly honest way, but if you didn’t know better you’d think it was just a nice picture.

But look carefully at my legs. Do you see the constellation of angry redness there? Those are scars. I gave myself those scars, building them up night after night for years. I have the word “fat” forever imprinted in scar tissue on my left thigh. This picture was taken a little over a year ago. I had been self-harming for nearly five years at that point. This is the first photographic evidence I have of my scars. This photo marks the day I chose to wear my own skin proudly.

Most mental illness is invisible.

That fact is both positive and negative for people with mental illnesses. It means I can choose who knows about my struggles; it also means it’s easy for people to discount what I’ve been through.

Self-harm is different. It’s obvious. It leaves your most vulnerable and raw moments on your skin for the rest of the world to wonder about. It puts you in an incredibly vulnerable position, because it’s not like you can just take off your skin and set it aside for a day. It’s carrying around memories of your worst feelings so people can ask you about them, or judge. Self-harm is hardly considered a positive choice, and for a long time I would spend my time outside the house wondering if someone thought I was suicidal, if they were triggered by my body, if they thought I was dangerous or if they were afraid of me. I don’t like giving other people the power to interpret some of the most intimate and vulnerable moments in my life.

For years I carefully arranged my clothing so people couldn’t see my scars. I would go to the gym and have small anxiety attacks every time my shorts rode up. I invested in pairs of leggings so no matter what I wore I could be sure I was covered. I was so afraid someone would see and I would be “found out.”

But this picture marks the day I chose not to be afraid.

I hate the way that sounds. You cannot choose your emotions. I am more aware than most what it’s like to have a feeling wash over you completely, without your consent and without a moment of space to fight it. I know my emotions exist whether I want them to or not. But in this case I was fully active in my decision. I thought carefully about what I had done and whether I wanted to continue covering my body out of fear. I chose not to. I decided I was completely done with hiding myself and what I had done.

I expected the decision would make me uncomfortable or lead to some awkward interactions. But I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by myself and the reactions of others. Since I took this picture, I’ve gone out into the world wearing shorts, skirts, bathing suits and all kinds of clothing that showed off my legs. Multiple people have told me thank you. It’s amazing to be told thank you for having the audacity to exist without shame.

What is most meaningful to me about this picture is the way I smile. Since I stopped trying to hide, I feel like my body belongs to me. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I don’t feel broken, and I don’t even spend much time thinking about the fact I have scars. I will never deny there are external stigmas against those with mental illness and those who self-harm. But what surprised me was how much of my own struggle came from self-imposed stigma. I had spent so much time judging myself for the way my body looked, I was convinced everyone else would, too. And some people do. But some people look at my marred body and see me. Some people look at my body and see beauty. What you don’t see about this picture is that it’s the moment I started seeing that too. At least a little bit.

It’s been over a year since I hurt myself on purpose. I say that not with pride (because I’m bad at being proud), but with happiness. Self-harm is not an effective way to cope with internal pain. It stops helping very quickly and starts making things worse and worse. But not yet having effective coping strategies is not morally wrong. It’s a normal, human problem, and one we could all use some help with. And although I don’t condone self-harm, I don’t condone feeling ashamed of it either. It was part of my life. And I’m OK.

Follow this journey on We Got So Far to Go.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


My teenage son took a knife out of the kitchen drawer. Feeling stripped of power and control, he believed the only thing he had left was pain. Behind the locked door of his room he began with his left arm. With each slice he traded his emotional anguish for physical pain. It was just enough to suppress his desire to die.

I discovered my son was cutting after he gouged his hand severely enough to require stitches. It was only after I asked him to wash his hands, after pulling up his sleeves, that I saw the other marks.

What did I do wrong as a parent?

That’s what I asked myself. I was angry and confused. Why would he cut himself? Why would anyone want to deliberately hurt themselves? What I didn’t know was how great his internal pain was. I didn’t know what he had been experiencing inside for many years. I didn’t know how deeply he had buried his misery. I didn’t know every day my child fought to keep himself alive. Every day he won his battle and I never knew there was a fight.

After my anger subsided, I wondered why I didn’t notice my child needed help. I wondered why he didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t come to me and tell me about his torment.

That’s when the blame started.

I blamed myself for not being a good enough mother. I blamed myself that my sweet boy didn’t think I would understand how he felt. I blamed myself  for being too busy or too self-involved or too anything other than the “perfect mother.” I blamed myself for not knowing. I believed I should have known. This was my child. Wasn’t I supposed to have some kind of intuition about these things? I was supposed to protect my child from any harm thrown his way, but how could I protect him from himself? How could I take away my child’s pain when I didn’t even know it was there?

How does the parent of someone who self-harms heal from the physical pain inflicted on her soul?

I had many steps to take and lessons to learn along the way to my own healing.

My first lesson was on validation. This concept was explained to me by my son’s mental health counselor after a session where my son said that he hated himself and wanted to die. He said, “It’s my life, and death should be my choice.” Instead of listening, I told him how wonderful he was and listed all the reasons he had for living. I now know this isn’t what my child needed. He needed to feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted. Validation is sometimes not easy for parents. We’re ingrained to find solutions to our children’s problems, but sometimes in doing so we invalidate what they’re feeling. This was a difficult behavior for me to change. I spent most of my parenting life invalidating my children without even knowing it, from monsters under the bed to the desire for piercings or tattoos. I didn’t have to agree with what my child voiced, I just had to hear what he said, and accept and acknowledge his feelings as his own.

Because I spent an enormous amount of time helping my son survive, I was depleted of energy and on the verge of a meltdown. I knew I had to do something or I wouldn’t have the strength to continue being an effective parent. This is when I realized I needed therapy just as much as my son. The next step I took was to find a counselor for myself. Personal counseling is very important for anyone going through a difficult time. It’s important to get advice and support from a professional in order to gain perspective.

After years of focusing on my son and doing everything for him, I finally learned, through trial and error, I didn’t have to be the “perfect mother,” just one who listened her child, didn’t judge the choices he made and loved him unconditionally. I discovered I couldn’t solve my son’s issues or change his behavior; he would have to do that for himself.

My final step toward healing was recognizing we had a co-dependent parent/child relationship. With the help of my counselor, I learned how to communicate with my son without making all of the decisions about his health and his future. I was there to offer encouragement and guidance, but I took a step back and allowed him to make his own choices. Our relationship changed from an enabling one to a nurturing one. It didn’t happen overnight. The shift was a slow process spanning several months, but it did happen. I was able to let my son handle decisions for himself, allowing him to feel pride in what he did, and then I could validate him for it.

With each step I not only helped myself, but I helped my son. I stood by his side, helped him through difficult times, counseled him and I also reluctantly stood back and let him make mistakes. Each time he faltered, each time he fell, he would get up and start over.

Being a parent wasn’t what I had dreamed it would be. Instead it was painful, brutal, arduous and exhausting. But it was also rewarding and fulfilling. No matter what obstacles I had to face, being a parent always required love and acceptance. I learned I could trade pain for love.

Editor’s note: These lessons are based on an individual’s experience. If you or a loved one is engaging in self-harm, please talk to a professional.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 1.52.47 PM
Theresa and her son.

To see more from Theresa, visit her website.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

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