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How to Self-Heal Instead of Self-Harm

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The definition of self-harm, at its core, is a non-suicidal self-injury. Often simply called self-injury, it is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is often an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger or frustration.

From a young age, most people are taught how to deal with physical pain, but not emotional. Many children are not taught how to properly deal with their emotions by their parents or peers throughout their childhoods, which often leads to an internalization of feelings and emotions. For this reason, many grow up not knowing how to deal with stress, behavioral and emotional issues, so they turn to the one outlet they know works – a physical outlet.

It provides a sense of relief and distraction, however, only for a short time. When the word “self-harm” comes up in conversation, images of a person sitting in a corner with a razor blade are often conjured up in people’s minds. However, there are many different types of self-harm that can range from pulling out hair, starving or overeating, burning one’s skin, picking or piercing skin with sharp objects, and the most obvious, cutting.

Many people who self-harm experience shame and low self-esteem. It is important to not make them feel worse with judgment or through demeanor. Those who also perform this act are at a higher risk of mental illness and suicide. Also, not every person is willing to accept therapy or attend a support group, but many want to stop. They usually know it is an unhealthy coping mechanism, so what can be done to help stop someone who is self-harming?

1. See if they are in a toxic relationship or family setting, or need a friend.

Many people feel heightened stress because they are in a toxic setting and feel like no one will understand them, or they are too ashamed to divulge their situation. Striking up a conversation with someone can help a lot. Sometimes removing the person from the toxic situation is all it takes. Some people simply need someone to reach out to.

2. Suggest alternative methods.

I had friends and acquaintances in high school, into college and even today that self-harm on various levels. For one of my friends, I told him instead of cutting himself to trace his veins with a red marker. Another friend who was a brilliant artist, I told her to paint her legs and turn her body into a work of art. It seems incredibly silly, but it allowed their wounds to heal and helped keep off any impending infections. People I have known have even tried screaming to “purge themselves” of the pain. Another took cold showers to give her body the same shock factor, without the physical harm.

3. Don’t dismiss things like yoga, massages, meditation, etc.

We love relaxation for a reason! We get to clear our mind and forget worries and stress. Journaling and adult coloring books may also be a great stress reliever for people who used to deal with self-harm. There is also an app called Headspace that provides free meditation services to anyone who is struggling.

4. Find something that you’re good at. You may have a hidden talent you don’t know about.

Take a city-sponsored pottery class or glass blowing class at a local college. Join a play or a dodgeball team. Exercise is a great way to get your blood pumping in a positive way. You don’t have to be Picasso or David Beckham. You just have to have fun and be yourself.

There are also individual treatments that a person can do in order to keep off negative thoughts and behaviors in order to replace them with a healthy lifestyle.

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors; and in turn, replaces them with healthy, positive ones.

2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of CBT that teaches behavioral skills to help tolerate distress, manage or regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.

3. Mindfulness-based therapies

These therapies can help you live in the present, perceive the thoughts and actions of those around you to reduce your anxiety and depression and improve your general mental health.

Mindfulness is very popular in the addictive based community and for those who struggle with self-harm techniques. It is also called the “one day at a time” method. Therapy doesn’t always have to be the stigmatized person lying on a couch.

Please remember that it is very important to put your mental health and well-being above all else. Self-care is very important. I had a fellow therapist once tell me that, “If a plane is going down, they tell you to put your mask on first for a reason. If you’re hurt, you can’t help anyone else.”

That sentiment is very true and important when it comes to physical, mental and emotional health. Treatment plans are in place for specific reasons and medications are available if you ever feel like you need them. Never be afraid to ask for help – there are free hotlines and support groups available nationwide.

Lastly, avoid triggering websites and television shows or even areas that remind you of harm. Expressing yourself in positive ways to combat the good while rejecting the bad is often essential to the recovery process.

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Unsplash image via Amy Treasure

Originally published: June 14, 2018
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