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Why the Fear of Creating Scars Doesn't Stop Me Self-Harming

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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. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

As a young person who self-harms, telling my parents what I do was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – but what is even harder is having to hear them talk about it like it is not a complex mental issue, but rather something that can just be switched off. What my parents fail to comprehend is that this issue is not just one that can be stopped suddenly. It is not an issue I am even able to control, even on my better days. It is one I am constantly fighting, and a fight I am barely winning.

So, when I manage to gain the courage to tell them I have self-harmed again — when I manage to share with them the pain I’ve gone through — nothing hurts me more than their reaction. They are not cruel in the sense that they victimize me for what I do; they are dismissive, which in my opinion is worse. Many may ask why I continue to tell them if this is the result, but the truth is I have no choice. However naive my parents are about what caused me to self-harm and how it can be resolved, they know when I’m lying. When they ask me if I’ve self-harmed again, there is little point in me saying no, because they will simply turn and say “really?” in such a sarcastic tone that I have my guilt doubled and have to fold.

When I told them today that I had self-harmed again — that my legs now held my personal equivalent of World War III on them — their response was as simple as they believe my problem is. One sentence that has stayed with me in the hours after my conversation with my parents is the simple, “So what, you can’t even work now?” They believe my scars are something I can’t let anyone see, and when I do it somewhere that would be visible at work (lifeguarding requires I wear shorts after all) I’m being “stupid” and not considering the consequences.

But the truth is, in those moments, I’m not thinking at all. All that is going through my head is that I need to let out what I’m keeping in; that this physical pain needs to outweigh my pain inside. What shows after this is not of importance at the time. The fear of creating scars won’t stop me making them. In those moments, I am not thinking about the future; I’m not even thinking about tomorrow. I’m simply not thinking, I’m feeling — feeling for the first time since I last self-harmed. I do not care about the consequences because, at that moment, nothing else matters.

What I need my parents to do, even though I know this may be a fruitless need, is to try and understand what’s going on in my head and how they can realistically help me to stop. I need them to understand that, no matter how much they will it, this will not just stop overnight because they ask. I need them to understand that, whatever happens to me, I’m still their child and I am still me. But I know I won’t be able to convince them of anything. Not truly. What I can do, however, is share with you what hurts me, so that if you are a parent, you know how to better understand and help your child.

Nothing hurts me more than their inability to even try to understand, so if you are a parent of a child who self-harms, I urge you to try and understand things from their point of view more.

They are not doing this to hurt you.

They are not doing this for attention.

They don’t need you adding to their guilt.

What can you do to help them?

1. Remind them you are there for them whenever they need or are ready to talk. Offer an ear and remind them your door is always open.

2. Don’t bring the topic to what’s going to happen in the future for them because of what they are doing now; focus on how you can help now or how you can get help from an outside source now.

3. Don’t shift the focus on how this affects you, because this is about their head, not you.

I hope this can offer even the slightest help for parents and young self-harmers alike. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, even if you can’t see it yet.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via nixki

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9 Ways I Distract Myself From Self-Harm Urges

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One of the best ways to avoid self-injury is to have an arsenal of alternatives at the ready when the urge arises. Depending on what feelings are associated with the need to self-injure — depression, feeling unreal, anxiety — different coping skills may be more effective. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of alternatives to help relieve the desire to self-injure.

1. Self-soothe.

If you’re looking for comfort, try some alternative ways to self-soothe. Take a warm bubble bath. Make a cup of hot cocoa and curl up on the couch with a book. Listen to calming music or a sound machine. Watch a funny TV show or movie. Make yourself a delicious meal or dessert. 

2. Physical exertion.

Reduce the need to self-injure by doing something physical, and gain positive feelings from the endorphins released while you’re at it. This could be heading to the gym, dancing, walking or running until the need to self-injure fades.

3. Leave the scene.

Often, self-injury becomes a ritual, and the places we self-injure can become triggering. If this happens, leave the scene. Go out in nature, go for a drive, visit a friend or head to a coffee shop until the urge to self-injure passes.

4. Come back to reality, safely.

Feeling unreal or dissociating can trigger the need to self-injure. If this is the case, use safe ways of feeling intense physical sensations. Taking a cool shower, eating something spicy or dunking your face in a bowl of water can help bring back the present moment.

5. Feel accomplished.

Feeling productive and accomplished can sometimes redirect your energy. Make a to-do list and see how many tasks you can accomplish, whether it’s cleaning, completing a work project or even finally beating your favorite game.

6. Be mindful.

Use the skill of mindfulness to pull your attention away from self-injury. Suck on a sour candy, or other snack and concentrate on the experience. What does it look like? What does it feel like in your hand? What does it feel like on your tongue? What does it taste like? Go slowly and focus on as many details as possible.

7. Get creative.

Try substituting self-injury for art as a way to healthily express what you may be feeling. Write a poem about how you are feeling. Make a collage with old magazines. Grab a coloring book, or make your own drawings. It’s important to use these activities to get to a more comfortable emotional state rather than reinforcing negative emotions.

8. Have some fun.

This may sound counterintuitive, especially when the urge to self-injure is strong, but there are some fun ways to soothe that may be helpful. Try blowing bubbles to calm your breathing. Put together a jigsaw puzzle to bring your attention to the present. Play with a pet. Color, draw, write or do something else creative to take your mind off self-injury.

9. Make a connection.

Self-injury can be lonely and isolating. One way to combat the urge to self-injure is to go out and connect with others, even when this may feel like the last thing you want to do. It could be meeting up with a friend or trying out a new meet-up group that fits your interests. Volunteer at a local senior center or animal shelter. Find a support group or 12-step program.

Remember these are just temporary distractions. Understanding what created the impulse and finding healthy ways to deal with intensely uncomfortable feelings will put you on the path to no longer “needing” self-injury to cope.

 This article first appeared on The Self Injury Foundation’s blog

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via BrianAJackson

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3 Things My Struggle With Self-Harm Is Not (and 3 Things It Is)

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There are so many presumptions made about self-harm and those who do it. Because of this, I want to clear up a few things that have been true for me. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my own truth.

1. It is not “attention seeking.”

I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want anyone to see the scars or the evidence. It feels appallingly shameful to me. I am coming to terms with the scars on my body, and I wear short sleeves now. I usually cover my wrists with a watch and bangles, but if anybody notices, I can deal with it.

2. For me, it is not about enjoying pain.

I hate pain. I don’t tolerate pain well at all. I’m a redhead! We feel pain more than non-redheads (I read that somewhere – I’m sure it’s true!) I hate paper cuts, and I cringe at the thought of stubbing my toe. I don’t harm myself to enjoy pain. I do not like it.

3. It’s not about killing myself.

While I definitely have issues with suicidal ideation and overwhelming temptation at times, at no point in time did I think scarring my body would ever come close to killing me.

Here are three things self-harm is for me.

1. It is about fear and self hatred.

My life is consumed by fear. That is the reality of my anxiety — especially my hidden anxiety. I am afraid.

2. It is about comfort.

Ironic as that may seem, hiding away and numbing myself with physical harm, has been extremely comforting for me in the past. When I was consumed with self-loathing and drowning in irrational fears, maladaptive, harmful measures became temporarily comforting for me.

3. It is about emotional pain.

I have never managed emotional pain well, and eventually it all became overwhelming. As a result, I developed really poor coping mechanisms. Sure – I could have made better choices, but I didn’t at the time.

It’s all clear in hindsight.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Kerkez.

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How My Tattoos Have Saved Me From Self-Harm

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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. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I can feel the cold liquid spread onto my forearm and the stencil is placed on it. I can hear the buzzing sound of the needle start up beside me, and I clench my teeth. This is going to hurt. The buzzing gets closer to my body, and I start to shake. I sense the familiar feeling of the needle on the surface of my skin. Instant pain. I gasp and flex my forearm muscle, but it’s no match for his strong hands keeping me from moving. After a few moments, I calm down, letting the pain of the needle continue its path to creation.

And then numbness creeps up and overcomes me. It consumes my entire being and shows me a light at the end of the dark tunnel my life has turned into. The sensation of releasing myself into the hands of the tattoo artist gives me the rush of adrenaline like no other. I don’t want to feel, I don’t want to be. Whisk me away and do everything you can to keep me from drowning in my own sorrows and tears.

The pain of the needle becomes one with my body and it feels as if it is a part of me — a part of my being. The consistent hum finally settles my nerves and gives me a sense of place in the world — a sense of belonging to the earth. I can almost taste it.

The feeling of that needle keeps me from screaming. The etch of the design on my skin is my way of coping, my way of not self-harming, but still getting the feeling of self-harm in some way. It’s a soothing feeling. Maybe from myself, from my own demons that fester inside of me. These demons bury me in their infestation of despair and loneliness, but I am able to breathe fresh air again through the injection of the ink.

If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you may know what I’m talking about. You may even agree with me when I say it’s a coping mechanism. For me, it’s also a way of expressing to others in a creative way what means the most to me and what I have struggled through during my lifetime. Recently, or rather extremely recently, I got another tattoo. It’s a peony flower with the roman numerals “XVI.” That’s the number 16. It represents and serves as a reminder to me of the 16 days I spent in the psych ward.

When I look down at my skin, it brings back vivid memories of things I will forever remember, but it also helps me live through tough times. To look at my tattoos and know I will survive is freeing for me. They give me strength to face whatever bullshit is being thrown at me that day, that week, that month or even that year. They are my security blanket, and I am not ashamed to admit that.

Over the past three years, I have gotten quite a few tattoos and piercings. For some people, they are rebellious and unacceptable. For others, they are ugly and a waste of money. For me, they are my story. My tattoos are what have saved me from self-harm. My tattoos have made me feel human and real. My tattoos have made me feel like me.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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If You're Nervous to Show Your Self-Harm Scars This Summer...

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As the weather gets warmer and summertime nears, many of us have started daydreaming about beach vacations, time off school and more chances to be outside. But with sunshine comes something that might be stressful for people who have self-harm scars — pressure to wear more revealing clothes, both for comfort and to “fit in.” It can feel like a lose-lose situation when you’re trying to decide what to wear. Will people ask questions if you wear long sleeves? Will they stare if you don’t? It’s a tough spot to be in, especially if you feel like you’re in this alone.

To empower people with self-harm scars who are nervous for this summer, we went straight to people who get it — people in The Mighty community who have self-harm scars themselves — and asked them what they would tell someone in their shoes. Whether you decide to bare it all or keep yourself covered this summer, there’s no shame in your choice, and always remember you’re not in this alone.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “As someone who has scars from self-harming, I would tell them it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have our scars — some just wear them differently — and that doesn’t make us any less strong or beautiful. It shows that we’ve fought a fight and that is absolutely not something to be ashamed of or afraid to show.” — Kristina K.

2. “People will stare, but not necessarily for the reasons you may be thinking. They may be thinking, ‘They must have gone through a lot,’ and you may even pass someone who has scars from self-harm and sees you embracing yours — that may give them the strength to do the same.” — Megan E.

3. “Wear whatever you want! If you’d like to keep them private, however, I can show you exactly how to cover them with makeup. Whether you want them on display or not is totally your choice and both are valid but never, *ever* be ashamed of your body.” — Shoshanna J.

4. “I had this problem for many years. Both my arms are scarred from cigarette burns and cut marks. These are over 20 years old. I’m 45 now and spent many years wearing long sleeves only, including in the summer… As time went by, I slowly talked myself into wearing short sleeves, in short bursts, until I became more comfortable and confident… Baby steps.” — Nicola D.

5. “I remember the day I wore a tank top for the first time, my healing scars still raised and red. I felt like they were screaming my secrets. But I did it, I wore it anyway. And guess what — the sunshine and saying no to feeling ashamed healed my scars and my soul more than I knew was possible. I don’t want to say that people didn’t notice but the ones who I cared about — they loved me anyway.” — Marielle E.

6. “Nine out of 10 people won’t even notice, to be honest. They’re all wrapped up in their own lives. Or they won’t know what they are. Wear whatever you want.” — Naoko P.

7. “It’s an unfortunate balancing act, weighing up your trust in people to be understanding (or at least accepting), against your ability to accept them potentially treating you awkwardly in the future (or at worst, removing themselves from your life). The stakes become a little higher in a professional rather than social situation. But the risk can have its rewards — often people may pleasantly surprise you.” — Dan H.

8. “People are probably going to look at you — some children might ask their parents what happened to you. Some people will judge you, but you’ve already proven you’re stronger than all of that by still being here today. You’ll be nervous, but you’ll realize that in the end nobody will care. People will look and people might know what happened, but you may be able to help someone else who is about to pass out from the heat who is covering the same scars you had the courage to show. They are a part of your story as a person. Do not be ashamed of what helped you cope for so long. I know you’ve heard that these are battle scars hundreds of times but every time you’ve heard it those people were telling you the truth. Do not avoid the sun because you know that will make them stand out more. You are strong. You are powerful. You are courageous and you can do this.” — Morgan S.

9. “‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.’ I would tell [others] that I love them and care for them and that their scars don’t define them, that there is so much more beauty around them, and that their scars are proof that they have survived and are winning the battle.” — Conor L.

10. “Everyone has scars, but not everyone’s scars are visible. You are stronger and have battled through the unbearable suffering so be proud of your scars…. you have physical proof that you are a warrior.” — Laura B.

11. “You do you, boo. It’s nobody’s business why or when those scars were put there. Be proud of your body, no matter how scarred you might think it is. — Laura C.

12. “Every scar is a reminder of how far you’ve come and how strong you’ve grown to be. I wear my self-harm scars with pride because every day I go without a new one is a small victory.” — Lindsey Marie G.

13. “Do whatever makes you comfortable. You have nothing to be ashamed of and should feel free to wear anything you like. However, there can be the odd occasion where you don’t want to or are too tired to deal with rude questions that might arise, and shouldn’t feel bad about wearing something that’ll conceal the scars if it will make you feel better.” — Caz G.

14. “Each scar tells a personal story… don’t be ashamed. It’s proof that you’ve made it through your hardest challenges and overcame it. You’re beautiful/handsome no matter what.” — Cherish I.

15. “Your scars are a part of your story, but they don’t define you. There is no shame in your coping mechanisms — they show that you did cope! Also, your scars are an opportunity for you to educate other people, if you’re comfortable with that. You’ll get stares, some shaken heads, but you’ll also find compassion.” — Christina S.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Thinkstock photo via GaudiLab

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How Self-Harm Support Groups Can Be Helpful

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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. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

By its nature, self-harm is a secretive and isolating behavior that can make it feel like you’re the only person on the planet who struggles with this issue. In reality, 17.2 percent of adolescents, 13.4 percent of young adults and 5.5 percent of adults self-injure, so none of us are alone. It can just feel that way.

This is where the power of a self-injury support group can make a huge difference in recovery. However, despite potential positive benefits, there are few self-injury dedicated support groups in existence, and this largely comes down to continued stigma.

Many practitioners still mistakenly believe self-injury is primarily an attention-seeking behavior. Therefore in a group setting, those who self-injure will need to increase the behavior in order to “gain attention.”

This is simply false.

Self-injury serves as a maladaptive coping skill to deal with difficult emotions, often arising from co-occurring mental illness, trauma or other issues. Many who self-injure want to recover, and support groups for self-injury can focus on dealing with the difficult emotions causing self-injury, treating self-injury as the symptom it is rather than piling on stigma by framing it as a personality defect.

This being said, self-injury contagion is possible in a group setting. Strict language guidelines — using terms such as “self-injury” or “self-harm instead of specific behaviors — ensure group members are not encouraging or triggering other members. With these guidelines in place, those who self-harm can build a healthy support system and share resources for recovery in a group setting, a powerful tool for making positive changes.

If you’re looking for self-injury-specific support groups, Psychology Today’s group directory can help you find resources in your area, as well as To Write Love on Her Arms’ local resource guide. S.A.F.E. Alternatives runs a clinic out of St. Louis and has a handful of S.A.F.E. Focus groups throughout the United States. And if you can’t find a group in your area, start your own!

If you’re struggling with self-injury, know you’re not alone. There’s no better way to discover this than safely engaging with peers who are walking the same path to recovery from self-injury in a group setting.

Follow this journey on Self-Injury Foundation

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio

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