What is self-harm?
Self-harm, also known as self-injury or self-abuse, is taking actions to deliberately cause harm to one’s body, which includes bleeding, bruising or marks in the body’s tissue that do not go away within a few minutes. Incorrectly, self harm has been equated to a failed attempt to end one’s life, this is not the case. Most often self-harm is a coping mechanism; a way to deal with difficult feelings. Sometimes, the action will change the psychological pain into physical pain, allowing temporary relief from distress. Other reasons for self-harming include expressing feelings that cannot be put into words, providing a feeling of control, and feeling anything instead of just feeling numb.
Self-injurers come from all walks of life, all economic brackets, and any gender or sexuality. Studies suggests that self-harm could affect up to 4% of the population.
What are types of Self-harm?
The most common types of self-injury include cutting (with any sharp object such as a knife or broken glass), burning, hitting oneself with their fists or heavy objects, hitting heavy objects (such as a wall), picking at skin until it bleeds, not letting wounds heal (for example, picking away scabs), pulling out hair, biting oneself, and swallowing poisonous substances or objects.
What if a loved one is involved in self-harm?
It can be difficult to tell is someone self-harms, often individuals are ashamed or embarrassed and will cover up their injuries. Warning signs that someone close to you may be self-harming include having unexplained injuries such as cuts, burns or bruises, having unexplained scars, or covering up their body at all times, even during warm weather. If you suspect a loved one is deliberately hurting themselves, it is normal to feel shocked and confused, but it is important to avoid anger and judgement towards the self-injurer. It is a sign that someone you are about is in distress.
What are treatments for self-harm?
To treat self-harm, it is important for the self-injurer to learn new coping mechanisms and the skills to use these coping mechanisms in place of self-injury. Often, once the patterns of self-harm stabilize, further work can be done to treat the underlying issues.
Studies have found several effective approaches for managing self-harm, including cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, and self help steps that can be taken.
Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches individuals how their thoughts and behaviours affect their mood and how to reduce the feelings that trigger the desire to self-harm. Additionally, this therapy can improve underlying issues of anxiety, depression, and coping skills. Dialectical behavioural therapy teaches individuals how to replace extreme and rigid ways of thinking with more open and flexible ways, and also teaches skills such as problem solving and self-acceptance. Using these skills, individuals are taught how to cope with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without turning to self-injury. In addition, self-help steps that can be taken include getting regular exercise, eating well, getting enough rest, keeping in touch with family and friends, and looking for a support group to connect with other individuals in a relatable situation.
How Can Living Well Help?
If you are ready to get help for self-harm, the first step is to confide in someone who you trust. Several of our counsellors use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy treatment as part of their integrative approach to healing and have experience treating self-injury. Living Well Counselling Services Calgary offer a free 20 minute consultation to all prospect clients to help you find the counsellor that would be the best fit for your goals.