Although individuals who self-harm may have suicidal thoughts, the act in itself is not intended as a form of suicide but rather as a means of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. In essence, self-harming behavior is a dysfunctional coping mechanism. Self-injury’s goal is to help the individual dissociate from the immediate tension they are experiencing. Self-harmers speak about feeling overwhelmed with uncontrollable emotional thoughts and beliefs that are excessively painful. Unable to face this dire pain, they channel the uncontrollable pain into a different type of pain. One that although is still painful, seems to them understandable and more importantly, controllable. Through self-harming behavior, the real feelings are temporarily avoided and replaced by the new distracting pain. The pain from self-harming, although it hurts, is a familiar pain and not mysterious and scary like the original emotions and feelings. Some individuals who self-harm describe overall feelings of numbness and not belonging. For them the act of seeing their own blood when they self-harm helps them to feel alive and not dead inside, confirming their existence. Self-harming can also serve as a form of self-punishment for those who feel an inner sense of shame and guilt. Besides the obvious physical problems that self-harming causes, the problem with self-harming behavior is that the original pain is only temporarily deflected and never addressed.
Since the original issues have only been avoided, the unknown frightening pain returns and even intensifies sending the self-harmer back into the vicious cycle of self-abuse. There can also be an almost addictive quality to self-harming. For some the act releases endorphins, the body’s natural defense to pain, into the bloodstream causing an almost numbing or pleasurable experience.
Most individuals who self-harm tend to be hard on themselves, perfectionists, have difficulty with expressing themselves and dislike their bodies. It is difficult for someone who self-harms to admit to someone about their self-injury because of the guilt and shame they feel. Self-harmers usually keep the behavior secret and feel like they are “crazy” and inherently bad. These individuals are reticent to ask for help because they are fearful that because they self-harm, they may be forced into a locked ward and held against their will. In actuality, self-harmers are sane individuals who have fallen into a maladaptive coping style to address their unbearable emotional pain.
WD Recovery and Wellness Center understands the special needs of eating disordered individuals who self-harm. We are able to address the self-harming behavior in a supportive and empathic environment. Through treatment, we are able to teach the individual how to get through difficult emotions and feelings without the need to self-harm. WD Recovery and Wellness Center can help the individual redefine the feelings and develop and then implement effective coping mechanisms to loosen the hold self-harming has on the individual’s life. With the existence of new coping skills, the individual now has alternative choices to self-harming and no longer feels hopeless and helpless.