Self injury / Self harm
A large proportion of calls and emails we receive at SupportLine are from people who self harm, the majority of whom are young people. Many of these have suffered abuse - emotional, physical and/or sexual. These callers present as having little or no self esteem, no value, no sense of worth and see themselves in a totally negative light - often reflecting that they are 'useless', 'worthless', 'a nothing'. On talking to these callers it comes across loud and clear the person they really are inside - compassionate, caring, sensitive, talented, a good listener, has a good sense of humour, is always there for others etc. It is so sad that the person cannot see that for themselves - cannot see themselves as others can see them.
Many self harmers find it difficult to verbalise how they feel, and may have blocked off or detached from their feelings of pain, hurt, anger, etc. Self harm can be used as a way of feeling something physically which they are unable to feel emotionally. It is not uncommon for a person who self harms to say they are not angry yet in reality there is often an enormous amount of anger inside which they are turning inwards on themselves.
Self harming is a way of coping - for someone to stop self harming they need to have help with finding other ways of coping, and ways of getting in touch with their feelings in a supportive environment. Anyone who self harms may need help with building up their confidence, their self esteem, their sense of worth so they can begin to see themselves in a realistic and positive light. When a person truly values themselves it is not so easy to harm and abuse yourself - when a person values themselves it is easier to start to take care of yourself, to start to see yourself in a positive light, to start to like yourself.
If you are self harming at the moment I know nobody can just tell you to stop doing it until you can find other ways of coping, and other ways of letting out your feelings and begin to value yourself. Please take time to read the following information which can give alternatives to self harm and advice in relation to keeping yourself as safe as you can. If you have been abused please take time out to read through the abuse pages on this site. You can learn other ways of coping and can start to value yourself. You may need a lot of support and help around you so please ask for it. Please don't self harm in secret, locked away, isolated and alone. Nobody should ever judge you for self harming - at the moment you are doing what you need to do to cope, to survive in the world - but there are other ways.
There are also a number of websites listed here which provide information and support for people who self harm. Many sites which provide excellent support and information to sufferers can also bring up immense feelings of sadness. It may be best therefore to choose a time to access sites when you know you can call someone or be with someone for support afterwards - even if you just need a hug or to hear a friendly voice. When you feel sad - look after yourself, cuddle up with a blanket, hot drink, cuddly toy, pet, look at photos and pictures which help you to feel safe and bring a smile to your face, you may have a safe box with objects to hold which feel good, velvet, pebbles, shells, playdough etc., and remember to access help you need to ask for it and try all the resources you need to in order to get the help you need.
What Is Self Injury?
'I think control's a big thing, when you can't control what's happening around you…you can't control pressure from outside, from society but you can to yourself.'
Self injury is something you do to damage your body as a way of managing expressing intensely difficult feelings, without intending to kill yourself. Some examples include cutting or burning yourself, bruising yourself, taking tablets, pulling at hair, or picking skin. It can go on for years without being fatal and it is more common than a lot of people think.
Self injury is used mainly to keep feelings under control, rather than to get a response from other people. Many people have difficult times in their lives and feelings can be hard to put into words. Sometimes the only way to manage the intensity of what you feel is maybe to hurt yourself. When hurting yourself becomes a way of managing these pressures it means there are other things wrong in your life that need sorting out. Self injury can become compulsive - a way of coping, because the underlying issues haven't been sorted out.
For a lot of people trying to stop self injury without having any other ways of coping with problems is not realistic. Without help, feelings can build up and you can end up doing more damage to yourself. It can be frightening becoming aware of how you feel, and why, but if you can do this you can begin to work out where you mean to go from here.
It might be helpful to identify parts of your life that may be causing you difficulties:
It's important to think of ways that minimise hurting yourself more than you intended. Using drink or drugs when you feel like injuring yourself is particularly risky.
When you feel like hurting yourself what other ways of managing could help fora short while?
How do you feel?
Are you worried in case no-one will listen?
There are lots of reasons why you could be worried about telling someone:
How do you get help?
'You've got to want to be able to do it, have the support of as many people as possible and bring it out in the open and not hide it from people'.
We all need help and understanding from other people sometimes . It can be hard to recognise when you need to involve other people. Talking to someone might help you feel more able to cope. You might wish you could express feelings more safely, or want to find ways of keeping them under control.
Try and talk to someone you like and trust . This could be a parent, carer, friend, friends parent or carer, teacher, school nurse, youth worker, counsellor, social worker, doctor, relative, helpline.
Who Can You Trust?
Write down the reasons why you should or shouldn't tell people. It can help you decide and be clear about what your worries are about telling someone.
Think of a plan to look after yourself if they respond in a way which isn't what you'd hoped for.
Remember the first person might not be able to help, so be prepared to try again. Unfortunately you may meet some people who respond in a way that makes you feel worse. Remember people who respond like this may be finding it hard to manage how they feel too - it's not your problem, so don't take it on. Perhaps you could try telling them they are not helping. If they don't listen, try and find someone else who will. It can take a lot of courage and determination to keep trying, but you will find the right person in the end.
If your health or safety is at serious risk the person you tell might want tocontact your parents or carer. You may need to speak to this person first about this and explain you want what you say to be confidential.
Self Injury and Suicide
'I don't cut myself to kill myself, but sometimes it can get like that'.
You might have mixed feelings about wanting someone else to help, or wanting to be left to try to control your life on your own. You might want to control when you hurt yourself but at the same time be scared in case your life is at risk.
If you know you could be in danger of killing yourself it might be an idea to write down a survival plan of what you can do to prevent this.
When you feel like killing yourself it's hard to remember anything good, or that anyone has ever said anything nice about you.
When you are not feeling suicidal, write a list of what these good things are. Keep it with your survival plan.
You could also keep photos or other reminders of good times - feeling so bad will pass. These suggestions may help you through it.
Agencies which can offer Support and Information
Bristol Crisis Service for Women:
British Red Cross Society:
Changing Faces Skin Camouflage Servicewww.changingfaces.org.uk/Skin-Camouflage
Childline: 0800 1111
Dabs Directory & Book Services
National Self Harm Network:
SupportLine Telephone Helpline: Helpline: 01708 765200, email email@example.com - Confidential emotional support for Children, Young People and Adults. Keeps details of agencies, support groups and counsellors throughout the UK.
ZEST (N.Ireland): 0287 126 6999, www.zestni.org - Telephone counselling and other support services for individuals who self harm or attempt suicide.
The Scarred Soul: Understanding & ending
Self-Inflicted Violence by Tracy Alderman - Publishers
New Harbinger Publications: ISBN 1572240792
What can i do to help a friend who is self harming?
It can be very puzzling why someone would hurt him or herself. The following can help your friend feel more supported and more likely to get help. Remember:
Your feelings matter too.
Your friend might tell you that they are hurting themselves, and ask you not to tell anyone. This can put you in a very difficult situation. It's natural to want to help someone but it's up to him or her whether they feel ready for further help. It would be better if you could work out together who the best person to tell would be, but you might have to decide alone.
You might have lots of feelings about your friend. These could include:
Remember: Look after yourself - this can be a lot to go through on your own and even people who are trained to work with people who self injure need support from other people.
If you can show your friend that you can look after your own needs, it can help them begin to think that they can do the same.
People who self harm often suffer from low self esteem and a counsellor will also help you to build up your self esteem but it is important that you talk about the reason why you are self harming.
(includes information from Bristol Crisis Service for Women, information from internet, Supportline resources)