This week I was asked to speak on BBC Radio Leicester regarding the growing rise of elf harm in young women. It followed a report which stated that 160,000 young people in the Eastern region of the UK had described as being unhappy in their lives… and follows reports which state that the UK has the highest recorded statistics of self-harm in Europe and that ¼ of our young woman from age 14 years old are self-harming in some way.
When working with my Roaring4Life clients self-harm is the most common external symptom demonstrated taking 2 main forms – cutting which most people associate with the term self-harm alongside disordered thinking around food. There are many myths around it, confusion as to how someone could choose to physically harm themselves, what purpose it serves and of course how to help recovery and healing.
Self-harm stems from a variety of different causes but it is the emotions which often lead to the external behaviour – frustration , a perceived feeling of lack of choice ( which may also be a reality for some) , a notion they have no control over a certain situation or situations, a need to find a release , a way of expressing feelings when they may feel they have no voice or can’t speak out.
When your life feels like it is not in your hands then self-harm gives a control mechanism – something which is truly yours and something which even if just for a very short time gives a feeling of relief. The act of cutting which you may think would be painful can also force the body to produce pain killing endorphins and the combination of the above can almost create an addiction when someone is so desperate for the emotional pain to go away.
Bit of course this does not last, and it is not healing – healing requires support and a place of safety and understanding without judgement – the therapy can take numerous forms, but these points are vital in all.
Sharing my Experience
After a very difficult time in my life I developed a way of coping by digging my nails in the back of the other hand and scratching until it bled. It started off sore but then it went numb and so I would dig my nails in a bit harder and scratch a bit more ... I hated conflict, I hated feeling I was in the wrong and I didn’t know how to have those conversations with people. It became almost instinctive sometimes I wouldn’t even be conscious of doing it – it was my go-to coping tool.
Healing happened through support , the ability to be honest , recognising my 'Why' and therapy…
So, take a breath and step back.
As a parent it can be extremely frightening to realise this is happening. First thoughts often turn to ‘are they trying to end their life?’ and ‘have we failed them?’
The fact is that the majority of self- harm is totally unrelated to wanting to end their life... in fact it is a way of finding something which helps them deal with life – it is survival. Self-harm life all mental health challenges do not discriminate so you can have sought to give your child the most supportive upbringing and they can be in this space.
So, it’s important to not seek to dig into reasons why and ask for explanations – they may not know, they may not feel able to talk about it. This may sound like tough love but it’s not about you ... it’s about them and what they need.
So that’s a great question/statement to open up with ... gently letting them know you have noticed and are concerned and asking them what they need or simply stating you are there for them ...
No Shame or Guilt
There is a big factor around shame and guilt surrounding elf harm – individuals will go to great lengths to cover up their scars and wounds or their behaviours – this becomes part of the ritual itself and of course there may be shame or guilt around the initial incident so it’s vital that they start to feel they can speak without judgement – to simply have a space to listen and be heard.
Alongside therapy finding a distraction can work well to begin to break the cycle.
Replacement technique could look like:
· Pinging an elastic band on the wrist.
· Writing and drawing on the skin rather than cutting
· Rubbing ice
Tools to Manage Emotions could be:
· Free writing – allowing the pen to just let all the emotion out. Then ripping it up.
· Mindfulness breathing and gently pushing the fingertips together
· Toe scrunching
· Screaming into a pillow
Self harm happens for reasons too numerous to list .. but is always created by the overwhelming need for release .. of physical and emotional pain ..
Healing happens when acceptance begins .. that you start to see you have choice in what you do and that you feel able to find another outlet for the chaos around you .. to find a voice and be heard in a world which seems uncontrollable..
And as with many emotional challenges - to re build a sense of worth and a sense of respect .. feeling in safe not just with others but with yourself.
.. if you are concerned about yourself or someone else your GP can advise you and also give you details of organisations in your local area that specialise in this topic.
.. and of course you can always contact me for a free initial consult and check out the information on the OCD/ Self Harm page from the Therapies link at the top of the page.