We often think of fear and pain as distinct experiences, one physical and one emotional. Emotional pain, however, is just as real as physical injury, and when self-harming and anxiety are intertwined, they may form a vicious cycle from which it can be difficult to break free.
Mental Health Issues
Coping with self-harm triggers can be difficult enough during normal, everyday life. It should come as no surprise that major stressors like the COVID-19 pandemic can make coping with self-harm triggers exponentially harder.
Most of the time, self-harm is not inflicted with the intention of causing serious damage, but even so, there are physical risks of self-harm. Typically, the resulting physical wounds of self-harm tend to be superficial, especially in those for whom self-harm is relatively new. However, self-harm has a way of escalating quickly and can, if left untreated, pose a physical danger.
Are you sure it's not that bad when considering the damage self-harm is doing to you? One of the strange things about self-harm is that we all know it’s bad. Rarely are any of us truly under the delusion that it is making us happier in any way. In fact, most of us acknowledge that it actively makes our lives worse. And yet, we don’t stop.
Self-esteem and self-harm do have a relationship. While self-harm can stem from a wide variety of root causes, issues regarding self-esteem is often brought up in discussions as one possible culprit. It would be reductive to draw a straight line connecting self-esteem levels to self-harm activity, but it would be equally reductive to deny that a relationship between the two does, in fact, exist.
Sometimes the scariest thing about self-harm is just knowing our brains are capable of having such dark thoughts. It is not always obvious at the time, but looking back at and reflecting on those moments, especially if your struggle with self-harm is a thing of the distant past, it can feel strange to recount all the thoughts you had before, during, and after engaging in self-harm. Because of the intense physicality of self-harm, it is easy to overemphasize the literal action of self-harm when in reality it is the thoughts surrounding the action, not the action itself, that hold real power over us.
Learning better communication skills can help you end self-harm, and communication does not always have to be verbal. Everything about the way we present ourselves in front of other people is intended, whether consciously or not, as a way to communicate something. Communication is not just limited to verbal interactions. It is not even limited to just deliberate physical movements and facial expressions. Everything from the way we dress, the way we walk, what we order at a restaurant, and even those parts of ourselves we think we are hiding, including -- yes -- our self-harm, are ways of making our thoughts, emotions, and sense of identity socially readable. Self-harm is an unhealthy communication skill, and learning new skills will help you stop self-harming.
Our expectations about self-harm recovery sabotage us. You see, when you are in the depths of your self-harm, it is hard to imagine life without it. Even if you want to stop, it feels overwhelming and daunting because you figure that in order to be able to stop, the problems that made you turn to self-harm in the first place would have to be resolved. In other words, the circumstances surrounding your recovery would have to be completely different from the circumstances surrounding your self-harm. But this is a lie we tell ourselves that will sabotage our self-harm recovery.
I stopped hiding my self-harm scars so I could feel free. Let me explain: self-harm insists on making its history known. It leaves evidence of itself on your skin in marks both faint and bold and in times of both struggle and recovery. These self-harm scars can make you self-conscious, remind you of a painful past, and draw unwanted attention. The common impulse among self-harmers and those with a history of self-harm is to hide them. But hiding self-harm scars, for me, just never felt like freedom.