**The following post discusses self harm. Please ensure you are in a safe space mentally before continuing. If you or someone you know is struggling with self harm, please seek medical advice**
Recently I was talking to a friend about self harm and the drive behind the compulsion. Most of us wouldn’t think that turning to something destructive would be helpful. Yet even harmful behaviours provided relief at one point, or our brain wouldn’t continue to seek this behaviours as comfort.
At its core, self harm is an addiction. I’ve heard it compared to illicit drug use and while it may seem extreme, the compulsion behind the behaviour is similar. Self harm is often adopted as a way to cope. It’s a coping mechanism, a harmful one but a coping mechanism all the same.
For me, it was a way to cope with emotions that I found overwhelming. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) so all emotions tend to feel overwhelming. I felt out of control and needed a physical action to focus on. Even feeling too happy could see me turning to self harming behaviours. I still remember self harming after completing a swim-a-thon. I had completed 100 laps and still felt the need to self harm.
If we look at self harm as a coping mechanism then it’s important to understand that this coping mechanism needs to be replaced. We can’t simply stop or ask our loved on to stop and not give them something to replace it with. It’s been 11 years since I regularly self harmed and yet when I find myself stressed, it is still the first thing I think of. Like an alcoholic who still thinks of a drink when times are tough.
It’s important to have a toolbox of coping strategies. These strategies need to line up with the reason that self harm behaviour is sought out. Do you feel the need to punish yourself, are you seeking physical pain, or do you want to let out frustration?
For me, self talk works wonders. If you had told me that 10 years ago, I would have laughed and called you a wank. Then I realised that self talk needed to be just that, talk that would align with what my ‘self’ needed. I was realistic about my self harming behaviours and what I needed. I understood that my self harm would usually need medical treatment. With that in mind I created the mantra ‘I don’t have time to self harm’.
I fill my days with things that I need to do, that self harm would interfere with. If I self harm, I can’t do those things. Or if I self harm I would need to rely on others to pick up after me. I use my core value of ‘I must not let others down’ for good, instead of a stick to further beat myself with.
Recovery from self harm addiction isn’t a straight forward process. It will often be one step forward and two steps back. It’s important to look at the big picture when focusing on recovery. One self harming episode, doesn’t put you or your loved one back at square one. Hiccups in recovery are normal and to be expected.
Guilt has no place in recovery. Beyond allowing us to feel empathy for those who care for us, guilt serves no further purpose, other than to give us a stick to further harm ourselves. Acknowledge the self harm and move forward.
I’m in no means an expert on self harm and can only speak from my own experience. I’m also not recovered and have had self harm episodes in the last 12 months. I am however a lot further along in my recovery than I ever thought I would be. Destruction is no longer the only aim of my day. I can see that there’s more harm than good.