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What is Self-Harm?

Self-Harm is behavior engaged in by individuals to reduce emotional pain. Self-harm is often used as a method of coping with emotional pain. It is not the same as a suicidal attempt or suicidal behavior. Self-harm, also known as self-injury, is inflicting pain on one’s self intentionally.

Methods of self-harm/self-injury may include cutting, biting, hitting, scratching, and burning. Self-harm is used oftentimes by adolescents and young adults to cope with uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions. Self-harm is often hidden from loved ones. Self-harm can leave physical scars which are often hidden from others. Self-harm also leaves extensive emotional scars.

Is Self-Harming Helpful?

Self-harm often feels very helpful and useful in the moment. Transferring the emotional pain to a physical pain can bring relief. However, the relief is short-lived. Hence, the increased need to self-harm again. As with any coping mechanism, continuous use forms a habit. Self-harm feels accessible, and the relief can range in emotions, and it may even feel as if the problem is improving. However, continuous use of self-harming behaviors creates a higher tolerance and also increases the need to engage in the behavior more frequently.

Consequently, individuals create a maladaptive method of coping that pushes them to find more creative ways to deal with the pain. Over a long period of time, this can cause disconnect from your emotions. It also transitions into avoidance because individuals are not effectively coping with their emotions. The relief from self-harm is only short-lived. Once the relief wears off, the emotions return, the problems return, as do the increased need to self-harm again. Thus, creating a cycle of pain, avoidance, and ineffective coping.

In addition, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) noted that self-harm is not a mental illness but rather a behavior that indicates a need for improved coping skills. NAMI noted that several mental illnesses are related to self-harming behaviors; these include depression, eating disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. The longer the self-harming behavior, and possible underlying mental illness, goes untreated, the more entrenched the self-harming behaviors become and the harder the cycle is to break.

Reducing Self-Harming Behaviors

Reducing self-harm can be viewed in two parts. As with any behavior that has developed a pattern, it is often difficult to quit the behavior cold turkey. Hence, one of the goals is to reduce the self-harming behaviors. Additionally, it is necessary to work with the individual to help them identify behaviors that are helpful to them and that can be used as replacement coping skills when difficult emotions or overwhelming situations arise.

Accordingly, individuals also need help with learning how to recognize, address, and manage their overall emotional health. Self-harm often spikes when stressors increase. However, everyday emotional health is also crucial. Because poor overall emotional health will only deteriorate in times of crises and overwhelm. Hence, helping people learn to manage their overall psychological health is also critical to reduce self-harming behaviors.

In other words, it is essential to build preventive wellness care into one’s life and routines to help achieve and maintain good mental health hygiene. Seeking professional help with a clinician can be helpful. A professional can also help to identify if there are underlying factors that individuals may be overlooking – as noted above, self–harm is often associated with various mental disorders. Additionally, seeking professional help can create a more robust treatment strategy to reduce, and even eliminate, self-harming behaviors.

In Summary

Self-harm is a maladaptive coping skill used to manage emotional pain. Self-harming behaviors can quickly become addictive; they also increase in frequency due to their increased pain tolerance and temporary relief. Self-harming behaviors are associated with various mental health conditions that often require professional help. Reducing self-harm is possible for individuals who do want to improve their mental health. If it is your desire to reduce self-harming behaviors, don’t hesitate to contact me today for a free 15-minute consultation.


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