At Kids Scorned we are receiving an increasing amount of emails from members about self-harming. There are many reasons for self-harming: bullying, cyber bullying, poor self image, depression, problems at home and we are receiving emails from members whose family have been destroyed by a parent’s infidelity or, if the parents have decided to stay together, they are coping with the aftermath of piecing the family back together.
One such email told us a typical background story about why this member, we’ll call him Jamie, started self-harming. “My father left us for a woman at work. My mother doesn’t talk about it she just cries a lot and I don’t have any close friends I can turn to. As an only child I feel like I’m going through this on my own. The self-harming started last year when one day in class I dug my nails into my arm to stop myself crying and I was surprised by how much the physical pain distracted me from the emotional pain. Before long, I was regularly scratching myself, getting deeper every time. I have started using kitchen knives now aswell as scissors and razor blades and it’s a habit that makes me feel better able to cope with what my dad’s done to us. I hide my scars and no one knows about it. I just wanted to email Kids Scorned because I felt you’d understand and help me, not judge me."
In the UK alone official statistics revealed an alarming rise in children who self-harm. These figures show that in the past year, NHS hospitals treated more than 18,000 girls and 4,600 boys between 10 and 19 after they had deliberately harmed themselves – a rise of 11 per cent. So why is this happening? Why are so many young people self-harming? Self-harm can be a way of coping with problems. It’s a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. Afterwards, you probably feel better for a little while but then the relief is short-lived and can be quickly followed by feelings like shame and guilt and you may feel the urge to hurt yourself again. And on a practical note, you may hurt yourself badly, even if you don’t mean to, or a wound might become infected.
There are more effective strategies for feeling better than to self-harm. If you want to stop, but don’t know how, remember this: you deserve to feel better, and you can get there without hurting yourself.
Self-harming is NOT attention-seeking, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it doesn’t mean you want to die. Members who’ve contacted Kids Scorned about their self-harming tell us that it helps them feel in control, feel something instead of just numb, releases the pain inside, punishes themselves. Once you understand why you self-harm you can learn ways to stop and find resources that can support you through this struggle. Although self-harm and cutting can give you temporary relief, it comes at a cost. In the long term, it causes far more problems than it solves. If you know someone who self harms and don’t know how to help it’s important that you don’t judge or criticise them even if you feel repulsed, confused or disgusted by what they’re doing to themselves. The best way to overcome any distaste you may feel is to understand it and learn about why your friend or family member is self-injuring.
Don’t make threats or ultimatums to get them to stop. Let them know that you’re there for them anytime they want to talk or need support. Encourage them in a calm and caring way to express how they’re feeling. If it’s you who is broaching the subject first then say something like “I’ve noticed cuts and scars on your body. I’m here for you and I want to understand what you’re going through.”
Rachel Welch, project manager at selfharm.co.uk, states"If you think back you may well remember someone in your youth who bit their nails furiously to the point of bleeding or who pulled out their hair. I knew one woman who always wore shoes a size too small because she said each step reminded her of just how awful she thought she was. When I self-harmed as a teenager I used bruising. Like these other people, I didn't think of it as self-harm, though, because the label wasn't around and there was no real understanding of it".
“In turn, this meant other people were less likely to look out for, or notice, it. And it certainly didn't occur to me to contact anyone to help make sense of what I was doing. We had no phone except one static landline where everyone could hear you and I wouldn't have known who to call anyway," she says. "Nowadays, people are much more likely to know about self-harm.”
There can be an 18 week wait once referred by a GP for counselling but you can contact any of our parenting experts here at Kids Scorned for help and advice 24/7 or speak to others through your Kids Scorned Forum or contact organisations such as selfharm.co.uk or ChildLine privately by phone or online.
Some of our members who are former self-harmers have told us of various ways they found that were successful in stopping them from the spiral they were caught up in. Cassie* went to a local therapeutic group who told her that her self-harming was a coping mechanism and that they needed to find out what’s caused it and find other ways for her to cope. So she wrote her feelings down, talked to others in the group and squeezed ice cubes when she felt the urge to self-harm. She told Kids Scorned that she no longer self-harms and feels she’s starting to move on.
You may also need the help and support of a trained professional so consider talking to a therapist. A therapist can help you develop new coping techniques and strategies to stop self-harming whilst also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.
Finding the right therapist may take some time. It’s very important that the therapist you choose has experience treating both trauma and self-injury. But the quality of the relationship with your therapist is equally important. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, respected, or understood, find another therapist.
There should be a sense of trust and warmth between you and your therapist. This therapist should be someone who accepts self-harm without condoning it and who is willing to help you work toward stopping it at your own pace. You should feel at ease with him or her especially when talking through your most personal issues.
Another Kids Scorned member, Nathan*, told us that he was given steps to follow by his counsellor at school. He found this helped give him a direction and as he passed each step he felt things were getting better, clearer. These are the steps below which we’ve expanded on for you.
Tell someone in confidence. Deciding whom you can trust with such personal information can be difficult so make sure you choose someone who isn’t going to gossip or try to take control of your recovery. This person could be a friend, teacher, religious leader, counsellor or relative. But you don’t necessarily have to choose someone you are close to. Lots of organisations can help you whatever country you’re from. Some of them you’ll find on our Helpline Index.
Eventually, you’ll want to open up to your inner circle of friends and family members but sometimes it’s easier to start by talking to an adult who you respect and who has a little more distance from the situation and won’t find it as difficult to be objective.
Figure out why you self-harm. This is a vital step towards your recovery. If you can figure out why you do this you can learn other ways to get those needs met, which in turn can reduce your need to self-harm. Because self-harm is often a way of dealing with emotional pain think what triggers it off in you. Is it anger? Sadness? Loneliness? Shame? Guilt? Once you realise and recognise the feelings that trigger your need to self-harm you can use healthier alternatives to deal with your feelings.
Find new coping techniques (Source: the Mental Health foundation, UK) Self-harm is your way of dealing with feelings and difficult situations. So if you’re going to stop you need to have alternative ways of coping in place so you can respond differently when you start to feel like cutting or hurting yourself.
If you cut to calm and soothe yourself:
• Take a bath or hot shower
• Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
• Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
• Massage your neck, hands, and feet
• Listen to calming music
If you cut to express pain and intense emotions
• Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
• Express your feelings in a journal
• Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
• Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
• Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
If you cut because you feel disconnected and numb
• Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
• Take a cold shower
• Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
• Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint or a grapefruit peel
• Go online to the Kids Scorned Forum
If you cut to release tension or vent anger
• Exercise vigorously - run, dance, skip or hit a punching bag
• Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
• Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
• Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
• Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)
Substitutes for the cutting sensation
• Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
• Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
• Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snap them instead of cutting or hitting
We at Kids Scorned have tried to bring you as much info and help about self-harming in this article as possible. If there are any questions you need to ask or experiences you wish to tell us please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and mark your emails SELF-HARMING
*names have been changed.