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.

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My Struggle With Self-Harm and Finding the Light Within

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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.

My left arm is often covered in visible carvings of chaos. The scars leave a resurrected reminder of satisfying shame. Sometimes after a self-beating or binge, I take to the shower as if I can wash off the marks of “madness.” But, no amount of soap can drown the proof down the drain. The documented evidence, like perfectly organized files, now permanently in my skin.

If this all sounds too familiar, then I am deeply sorry. I do not write this to trigger you, or to encourage this emotional intervention. However, I do feel self-injury is something we must discuss, share and learn more about in healthy and helpful ways. I also speak out because I was 25 when I made my very first cut. I was an adult; I did not know anyone else who self-injured at the time and I never engaged in self-harm as a child. This was a whole new world, and a universe I was so easily drawn to. The spinning out of control happened quickly, and my life began to revolve around self-harm and secrets.

My self-harm “career” began out of anger and frustration. As the method laid within my reach, it seems like it just happened. With one time, the storm settled, my mind calmed and just for a moment the suffering of my soul was outwardly omnipotent. Months have turned to years of an employment to anything that could potentially harm me.

The broken skin eventually heals, creating a cycle of reopening the wounds emotionally and physically, sometimes interfering with the healing process altogether. This cyclical spiral leaves you feeling confused and confined. Self-injury is absolutely an addiction, and because of its taboo nature, it often goes untreated for longer periods of time.

I would like to tell you it is easy to quit, that it’s easy to simply put down, but it’s not. However, I can tell you there is light in your crevasses. You won’t see this light overnight (nights are always the hardest), but moving momentarily away from the urge can make moments turn to minutes. Then, whole days without inflicted harm on your luminous body and soul. Imagine sitting outside on a warm, sunny afternoon wearing shorts and a tank top, not having to hide your battle wounds — embracing your body and loving the way the light feels on your skin.

To anyone else who finds a way to destroy the light which lives underneath your bruised and broken skin, you are not your labels. Your name is light-bearer. Healing can begin the moment you recognize the light that lives within you.

Try to see the light that breaks through your cracked canvas, and use its radiating energy to get up, to reach out and to ask for what you need. You need light and you are light. Take this moment to scrap the self-harm and shine.

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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The First Time My Friend Saw My Self-Harm Scars

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For a millisecond it escaped my thoughts to keep my sleeves down. It was a ridiculously hot day in a lecture theater as we waited for the lecturer to begin the presentation on “professionalism within the workplace.” I briefly rolled up my sleeves to try cool down, but as I did I caught a friend looking at my left arm. I could feel myself filling with shame, a flush of embarrassment slowly creeping from inside me, all the way up my neck, my cheeks and my forehead, making me feel even hotter.

I quickly pulled down my sleeves and used them to try and cover the nervous sweat that began to perspire on my face.

For the whole of that lecture I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think was, “What if she doesn’t want to know someone as ‘messed up’ as me?” “What if she tells everyone else?” “Is this going to change her opinion of me?” “What if she goes to the university and tells them I shouldn’t be here?”

Similar questions went around and around in my head all morning, thinking up different scenarios of how it could all pan out. I could barely hold a conversation because I was so distracted.

It came to our lunch break and as my friends walked ahead I was still in a daze and didn’t realize  the friend who had been on my mind all day wasn’t with them. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and as I turned around I was met by a huge embrace. She held for a moment and then very quietly she asked, “Can I ask you something?” I hesitated but nodded into her shoulder as the embrace continued. “Are you being safe?” I nodded. “Are you keeping them clean?” I nodded. “You know I’m here if you need to talk?” I nodded again.

The embrace tightened.

We released, smiled at each other, and continued walking to catch up with the others.
I had to hold back tears when rejoining the group, as this was the first time I had ever spoken about my self-harm, albeit just three simple questions, followed by three nods. I’d spent my day worrying about how a friend would treat me because of the way I cope. She’d spent the day waiting for the right moment to catch me in private and show her support and understanding.

She did not make a huge fuss. She did not make me feel bad. She did not dramatize the situation. She simply made sure she knewI was safe and that I knew that she was there for me. She has not brought it up since. I get the occasional, “Are you OK?” with a tone of voice showing there’s more meaning behind the question than when used as a conversation starter, but she knows I will approach her if needs be.

That support, love and understanding will stay with me. I am thankful for her kindness, more thankful than she will ever know.

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.

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My 12 Go-To Distractions When I'm Fighting the Urge to Self-Harm

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The reality of self-harm is it is not always done by a teen, wearing all black and sporting homemade tattoos. The reality of self-harm is that it takes on many shapes and sizes. It affects the young and the older, alike. Self-harm does not care if you are a busy student, a successful executive, unemployed, or a business owner. It doesn’t care if you are male or female. Many people struggle with self-injury, and the guilt and pain it can bring.

I was about 12 when the urges to self-injure hit me. I was struggling with depression, and trying desperately to hide it from everyone. My home was not a safe haven for me, and although my parents were kind and I was never abused physically by them, it was not that way when other members of my family came to stay. I was living a life of fear, anxiously hiding my depression and trying to avoid those who would hurt me.

Self-harm became my lifeline, a way to control my life when I felt I had no control. It was also a way to punish myself for not being able to stop what was happening. I had no idea that anyone else in the world felt this way. I don’t even know why or how I came up with the idea that to hurt myself would help me feel in control.

It took me 21 years to admit to anyone I was a chronic self-harmer, and had been for so long. It felt shameful and frightening to get help. It took another year to finally have the new coping strategies I was learning to actually help. Spending two weeks in a mental health hospital last year, it was a shock and surprise to me to find out self-harm was actually really common among those who struggle with mental illnesses. It opened my eyes to the fact I was no alone in this and didn’t need to feel ashamed of my secret.

After I left the hospital, I felt strong enough to open up and tell my husband about this hidden issue. I was able to talk to my psychiatrist and tell him too, and doing so gave me a lifeline to recovery. They helped me find coping tools, and my husband has often sat with me while I have cried and sobbed my way through a day while trying to ignore the increasing urge to harm myself.

Here are some of my go-to distractions when I’m fighting the urge to self-harm. Remember, different things work for different people. Find what helps you. Most of all, I found it helpful to use my stubborn streak for my own good by refusing to allow myself to self-harm — even though that in itself, hurt. This was the first step for me!

1. Be honest.

Tell your safe person how you are feeling and ask them to help you. If you can’t talk to them, write a note or text. Just getting the words out there can often help.

2. Remind yourself of how you will feel afterwards.

I often feel disappointed afterwards. It helps me to think of my support people and how they may feel.

3. Cry.

If you need to cry, allow yourself and don’t feel ashamed. It’s a natural way to let out emotion.

4. Mindfully transport yourself somewhere you feel safe, calm and happy.

I like to imagine being on the beach, feeling the warmth of the sand under my toes, the gentle breeze against my skin, the smell of the salty air. The more you practice, the easier it is to take yourself away from the situation you are in.

5. Remove yourself from temptation.

Go on a walk or drive, meet a friend for coffee. Just don’t take self-harm tools with you.

6. Let your pain out in words by writing in a journal.

If your thoughts are frantic, just scribble down whatever you are thinking. Consider blogging.

7. Keep an art journal and draw or paint your feelings.

Focusing on keeping my hands steady so I can sketch helps me self-soothe.

8. Practice mindfulness.

Put on a guided meditation and follow along, or practice deep breathing and grounding techniques. An example includes, listing five things you can see, five things you can hear and five things you can feel.

9. Do a yoga or pilates session and focus on stretching each muscle.

Slow and steady, there is no rush. Focus your thoughts on the movement.

10. Take a hot shower or bath.

Imagine it washing away the painful feelings.

11. Use peppermint oil.

I rub pure peppermint oil on my wrists. It stings a little, which helps when I’m feeling numb and would have used the pain from self-harm to “feel.” Plus the smell is very soothing and calming.

12. Sit with your feelings.

Remember, you don’t have to hurt yourself just because you’re thinking about self-injury.

Making a list of things to help you to distract yourself if you are experiencing self-harm urges is the best advice I could share with anyone. Have it handy and practice it when you are feeling stronger too, so that it is second nature in the hard times, on those hard days. Don’t wait until you are trying to get through a crisis to practice your strategies.

Remember this though, you are worth so much more than your scars and bruises. You are worthy of love, both from yourself and from others.

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.

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Why Summertime Is Hard for Me as Someone With Self-Harm Scars

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It happens every year. During the winter, long sleeves and long pants hide the scars that tell a story of a darker time in my life. I don’t even think about my scars. Out of sight, out of mind. No questions from others, no explanations needed. It’s like they don’t exist.

But every summer, I am faced once again with the reality that since I was fourteen years old, I have struggled off and on with self-harm.

When the short sleeves come out, I can see the scars on my arms. When I put on the first dress of the warm season, I see the scarred lines across my leg. In the summer, I can’t hide away my past the way I can in the wintertime. It’s right there, for everyone to see.

Most people don’t even notice my scars. They’re subtle, and only noticeable when you’re looking for them. And even if someone were to ask, I have a million plausible excuses for why they are there. The issue with the visibility of my scars isn’t in the reactions of other people — the issue is myself.

When I am faced with my scars every single day, I have to contend with extra baggage and feelings. I have to contend with the shame that comes from that part of my life. I have to contend with the judgment I inflict on myself. I have to contend with the reality that my body will be marked with the story of my past for years to come.

It’s daunting. But my scars tell another story as well. My scars tell the story of how I fought and won. I didn’t win every battle every time, but I am in a place now where I am stronger than ever. I am more equipped now to face negative thoughts and feelings and come out victorious. My scars tell the story of how I am growing and learning every day and becoming the best person I can be.

My scars are victory.

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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What Do I Do if I Don't Care if I Live or Die?

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Editor’s note: This post discusses self-harm and may be triggering to some. 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.

I think my favorite (or rather, most frequent) form of self–harm is indifference. I find myself in situations where I have to decide my fate of sorts, and yet in almost every one of them, I don’t care about the outcome or how it will affect me. It’s not because of some I-can-handle-any-challenge-that-comes-my-way mindset. I genuinely have no interest in where my decision will lead. Because I don’t care what happens to me.

I like to think I’m not actually this way. Sitting here now, I’m thinking, “There’s no way I have a complete lack of self-preservation.” I mean scientifically speaking, I should have some sort of defense mechanism in my brain that kicks in in times of survival (you know, “survival of the fittest” and whatever Darwin was talking about). Like if I’m crossing the street and I see a car heading my way at a not-so-low speed, my body should react on its own and get out of the way as fast as possible. But in reality, I either don’t bother changing my pace or I just stop and wait for the car to hit me. Don’t mind me, I’m just a walking death wish here!

I used to cut myself for various reasons. It started the first year I was in college and continued sporadically until about a year ago. I haven’t cut since — not that I haven’t wanted to. Sometimes I’ll just be sitting down watching TV and get the sudden urge without even being triggered by anything around me. It passes more quickly now, but the urge still rises every now and then. I’ve found some ways to alleviate the stress, such as snapping a rubber band or hair tie, or holding ice against my skin. These seem to work for me.

I think when people hear the term “self–harm,” their imagination is very limited to physically cutting or possibly burning one’s skin. But it’s so much more than that. We’re harming our psychological selves. And though the physical acts leave scars on our skin, those marks are nothing compared to the ones we’ve formed internally. Our souls have been carved, emptied, ripped to pieces, and stitched back together again. Those scars may never fade, and that’s far worse than the ones visible on our skin.

Although self–harm isn’t something that should be glorified or made to be “heartbreakingly beautiful,” it also isn’t something to be ashamed of. I was ashamed when people started asking me about my cuts and scars. I never felt comfortable sharing the truth with anyone — not even my own family. So I would do as best I can to cover them either with clothing or skin-colored bandages. But now, I’m not embarrassed to leave my arms bare for the world to see. I even got a tattoo of an oak tree over the spot on my arm that has the most scars—  not because I want to cover them but as a reminder of the things I survived and that I can still grow and thrive despite the struggles I have faced (and continue to face) in my life. Anyone who has harmed themselves in this way should know they are not alone and are not bad people for what they’ve done. Everyone finds their own ways to survive, and no one can judge you for fighting for your life.

More recently, I’ve taken a “liking” to harming myself by abandoning myself. I’ve hung myself out to dry and walked away without a care in the world — without a care for my own well-being. Sometimes it’s little things like not showering because I don’t care about my own personal hygiene or not eating because I have no energy to walk to the kitchen, and self-care provides no motivation whatsoever. Because it’s non-existent. But other times, it’s driving down the road and speeding through an almost-red light, knowing there’s a good chance I could get T–boned by an oncoming car. Even though I’m not actively seeking out ways to harm myself, I’m not doing anything to prevent myself from being harmed, which, in my opinion, is just as bad.

For a long time, I was so angry with everyone (my family and friends) for “abandoning” me. For not caring about me and my own well-being. But I never even let them care for me in the first place. Why should I? I don’t feel like I’m worth caring for, so I shouldn’t waste their time (part of their life) begging for their support and constant reassurance. I don’t care about myself. I don’t care if I live or die. I am last on my priorities’ list. I’m a ghost of a person who maybe never even existed in the first place. People need life to be alive. Life needs care and love and nurture. None of which I’ve allowed myself to have or reach for.

Why am I like this? How do I stop being like this? I don’t know the answers to these questions now, but I have to start somewhere, right?

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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