In short? Because it helps. Now, now, before that is taken the wrong way, it is definitely a maladaptive form of coping. Maladaptive and destructive. However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that self-harm, while maladaptive, does help. What would be the point of it, if it didn’t help? I’ve discussed myreasons for doing it. Here are some other ways that it helps:
- Expressing feelings you can’t put into words
- Releasing the pain and tension you feel inside
- Helping you feel in control
- Distracting you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
- Relieving guilt and punishing yourself
- Making you feel alive, or simply feel something, instead of feeling numb
People say things like:
- “It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words. It puts a punctuation mark on what I’m feeling on the inside!”
- “It’s a way to have control over my body because I can’t control anything else in my life.”
- “I usually feel like I have a black hole in the pit of my stomach, at least if I feel pain it’s better than feeling nothing.”
- “I feel relieved and less anxious after I cut. The emotional pain slowly slips away into the physical pain.”
None of these things are probably very surprising to those of us that have or do, utilize self-harming behaviors.
The simple fact of the matter is, that self-harm helps us get through. Whatever our reasons, it helps us. Alright, well if it’s so helpful, then why stop?
Because it’s not a permanent solution. It’s not a solution at all. It’s a band-aid on a bullet wound. The real wound is internal, emotional, and much, much deeper than our knives can go. Self-harm, at best, provides a very temporary relief, but it doesn’t actually fix the problem. It can actually create more problems for you as your life goes on. Many people don’t consider long term consequences when they’re so focused on just trying to get through the moment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to survive minute by minute. Next year, hell, even next week, isn’t going to mean much if you can’t get through the next minute. So that moment is what you pour all your energy into. And it works. You survive long enough to feel some relief. A small weight being lifted as the rest of the world slows down around you. You made it through, but now what. Now you have this wound, eventually a scar, that you have to hide or explain, and carry with you often for the rest of your life. It can make a lot of interactions very uncomfortable.
That relief you needed in the moment, eventually fades. And for many it’s replaced by something else; shame or guilt. How are you going to hide it? How are you going to explain it? What is my boyfriend going to say? What if my mother sees? What will they think of me? They’ll know something is wrong. They’ll know I’m not ok. Not alright. Not perfect.
It becomes necessary to keep this secret from the people close to you. But how do you hide a secret that’s worn on your sleeve? I’d avoid people. Avoid going out. Avoid seeing friends. Avoid seeing family. It was very lonely. I had to skip doing things I’d want to do, make up excuses, so people wouldn’t see the things I’d done to myself. You can’t wear a bathing suit when you’re covered in cuts. Excuse after excuse. And it can be difficult to do the longer you have to keep it up.
Not to mention, the longer you practice self-harm, the more at risk you are for an accident. It’s easy to misjudge the pressure you put on a knife or a razor blade. I’ve done it. I have nerve damage on my lower calf from it. This was the night I went to the Psych ER. I’d cut up my left arm and hit my right leg. I went to deep on my leg and could see fat and tissue. And then ambulance arrived and I only had a chance to keep it closed with a fabric band-aid. I could care for it properly because I couldn’t let the Rescue kids or the cop know what I’d done. How I managed to convince the Psych Doctors that I was fine and didn’t have a problem was next to miraculous because if they’d been even a tiny bit more vigilant and asked me to roll up both sleeves they would have quickly seen through the lie and my troubles with have tripled instantly. I never would have gotten out of there in the morning. They would have held me there for treatment and evaluation. I remember sitting there, knowing I needed stitches in my leg, hoping that I wouldn’t bleed on the floor so I could just get home and deal with my wound that was open to potential infection without cleaning or a proper bandage.
You never know what might happen or what might prevent you from caring for your wounds the way you should. It also didn’t help that I had a habit of re-opening them and inhibiting their healing. I actually wanted more pronounced scarring though. I often got minor infections that could have easily become much larger problems.
And what happens when self-harm is no longer enough? It provides a temporary relief. But temporary is just that: it doesn’t last. But that doesn’t stop the craving for the feeling of release. The longer you have to deal with the darkness, the longer you are likely to remain in a depressed state. If you’re not already clinically depressed, not dealing with your issues, can make you so. Holding onto them, instead of healing them, only makes them worse. Until you start adding alcohol, or maybe drugs, into the mix. Drinking and cutting was not an uncommon practice for me. Can you imagine all the ways that could get worse? A lack of inhibition, a lack of judgment, a lack of control, with a blade pressed against your skin is a great way to make a mistake.
Or maybe you begin to crave the sense of relief more often. Or you need that reminder to keep yourself on track more often to keep your control. So you begin to cut more. Until it’s one of the few ways you know to feel ok. It’s the only way you begin to feel ok. How can you quit the only thing that helps make your life bearable? Before you know it, the addiction has set in, and it becomes nearly impossible to quit on your own. You reach for your razors the way some people pick up a bottle.
And then all of those problems that I’ve mentioned previously, increase in probability.
The bottom line is: self-harm doesn’t actually help you with the issues that made you want to hurt yourself in the first place.
If that’s what you need to do, then do it. But recognize that all those problems aren’t going to go away if you do. The only way to truly stop that internal pain is to find help, face what is really going on internally, and confront the actual issues in a constructive way. Only then can you feel lasting relief, which is what we really need.
Be careful. Be safe. Be kind to yourself. The world often feels like an awful place filled with people that are out to make you miserable. Shouldn’t one person that wants to treat you well, be yourself?