People define self-harm in lots of different ways. Usually self-harm is defined as someone deliberately hurting themselves without wanting to die. It is sometimes called deliberate self-injury or non-suicidal self-injury. Engaging in self-harm may not mean that someone wants to die. It is a behaviour that is used to cope with difficult or painful feelings.
Here is a snapshot go how cycle of self injury looks like :
- Mental Anguish – The individual may be plagued by intrusive or unacceptable thoughts, images, flashbacks, nightmares, body memories (somatic sensations) of traumatic events, or burdened by negative self beliefs, for example, “I’m bad, evil, worthless, a waste of space, everything is my fault, I don’t deserve”. Trapped inside, the mental anguish begins to cause internal chaos.
- Emotional Engulfment – The smouldering fire sparks powerful feelings and emotions, which trigger off “a raging inferno inside”. These powerful feelings and emotions also remain trapped inside. The individual starts to feel frightened, desperate, about to explode, or dissociated (“uncomfortably numb”/feels nothing).
- Panic Stations – The raging inferno gathers momentum. The individuals feels out of control, or too numb (detached, distant, disconnected) and experiences a compelling urge to self injure.
- Action Stations – The individual self injuries, which extinguishes the raging inferno inside, or alleviates the feelings of alienation. The act may be carried out in a sate of awareness (the individual feels the pain), partial awareness (the individual feels some pain) & non awareness (the individual feels minimal or no pain (a dissociative state).
- Feels Better/Different – With the raging inferno under control, the individual temporarily experiences relief from tension, anxiety and pent up emotions such a fear, anger or frustration. A feeling of euphoria, numbness or detachment (dissociation). A sense of feeling more alive, more real, more ground in reality or if the function was self punishment a degree of satisfaction.
- The Grief Reaction – The reality of the individual actions starts to sink in. Shame, guilt, self disgust or self hate may rekindle the smouldering embers. Because the underlying issues (the internal chaos) remains locked up inside and unresolved, the cycle continues unless change is effected to the FIRST POINT.
If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of self harm, encourage the person to get support from health professionals like their GP or mental health professional and offer to go with them to their appointments if they are scared or uncomfortable. Don’t forget to look after yourself. Helping someone who self-harms can be draining and upsetting, so get support and look after your physical and emotional needs too.