Many do not understand self-injury. It’s hard to comprehend why a person would intentionally hurt him or herself. It just seems illogical, and some think it’s a joke or just a way to get attention, but it’s not. It is very serious. It’s a silent cry for help, a way to ease pain and for some, a way just to feel something. Self-injury in any form should not be taken lightly and should not become a source for jokes, teasing, or gossip.
When I was very sick and injuring my mom found a therapist for me in a nearby town. At first the appointments centered on my depression and an unhealthy friendship I was in, but when I confided in her about my self-injuring, things got rocky. She asked me questions about my injuring and I answered them.
During one of our appointments, my therapist sat across from me and looked into my eyes. “Could you be harming yourself to hurt others? Like your friend?”
I was speechless. My mind whirled. At that time I wasn’t even sure why I was injuring. I just knew I was hurting badly inside and it was the only thing that relieved the pain. I started asking myself questions. Am I trying to hurt my friend for hurting me? Am I trying to hurt my family? Was I that kind of person who would hurt people on purpose? Was I that mean?
I didn’t answer her. Tears threatened to fall, but I fought to hold them back.
She continued on. “Sometimes people feel helpless and lash out in different ways to hurt those they care about. Your friendship is troublesome and maybe the only way you can get back at her is by harming yourself.”
My mom picked me up from therapy and I cried all the way home. That’s when my mother decided to find me a new therapist. She called a hospital to find me better help.
Mom rubbed my back and told me, “If you were doing this to hurt us, you wouldn’t have hid it for so long and it wouldn’t have taken you all this time to tell us about it. There is a reason for it and we’ll find out what it is.”
When I found a new therapist, I learned that my self-injuring was an unhealthy coping technique I used to release the intense pain inside me. The pain of hurting myself physically took away from the hurt within me for just a little while. She said I was crying out for help without even knowing it.
Years later I went to dinner at a co-worker’s house. She had invited a few other co-workers. We went outside for some of them to smoke and talk. One of them started telling me that a fellow employee self-injured. They laughed about it like it was a joke.
One of the women took a puff of her cigarette. “She does it for attention. When I was in school I knew of a girl who hurt herself just so people would pay attention to her. It’s all a joke. Like doing something that dumb is going to make us care anymore.”
I was angry, but calmly explained to them what self-injury was and that it was not a joke. I even told them I had once harmed myself.
Another girl spoke up. “I understand you have a reason, but I had a friend show me her cuts like it was no big deal.”
I looked at her. “She was asking you for help. Self-injurers hurt themselves in private and try hard to hide their wounds. If they become brave enough to tell or show them, then he or she is crying out for help. He or she doesn’t know how to ask any other way. Self-injuring is not a joke.”
They all went silent.
Later I talked to the girl from work who injured. I told her how I struggled with it for many years and how I worked hard to stop. She confided in me about how depressed she was and the problems she faced within her life. Like me, she turned to self-injury to cope with the pain within her. I encouraged her to seek help.
Self-injury is not a joke; it’s not a way to hurt others or a way to get attention. It is serious. It is an unhealthy coping technique for either a deep inner pain or for the inability to feel anything. It becomes an addiction and the person can’t stop without help and support. If someone is showing you what he or she has done to him or herself, then that person is asking for help the only way he or she knows how. If you know someone who is harming him or herself, don’t brush it off. Encourage the person to get help and to tell someone they trust who can help him or her find the right therapist.
It took me time to tell my mom about my self-injuring, but because I did, I got help. I also confided in a friend who helped me to set a goal to stop injuring, and when I reached it we celebrated. Now I have gone 17 years without hurting myself. Because I asked for help, was taken seriously and worked hard I am standing in the light injury free.