CW: This post contains mentions of self harm and disordered eating. Do NOT read if you are triggered or negatively affected by these topics.
When we talk about the topic of self harm, the first thing a lot of people would probably think about is blades and the act of cutting oneself. Most people only know of this one method that people may use to hurt themselves. But the truth is that there are so so many more – lots of them not at all visible to another person. Over the course of a few years I too have hurt myself, despite never having touched a blade.
I am writing this post not for sympathy, but to raise awareness of the more subtle ways a person could use to harm themselves and how you could possibly help them. Why did I do it? Many reasons, some things I did purely to feel something when I went through periods of absolute emotional numbness. Other times I felt the need to punish myself for doing certain things or reacting to situations in certain ways. And then some things I did without even knowing that they were harmful to myself – to me they were just coping mechanisms at the time and made me feel better for a short period of time.
Probably one of the physically most destructive ways I used to hurt myself was by excessive scratching. Whenever I had let my emotions built up for too long it was pretty much inevitable that I would eventually need to find and outlet for them. And most often that outlet were my arms or thighs or breasts. I used to scratch them until they bled, almost like in a frenzy I couldn’t stop until I felt I had punished myself enough. And yes, these scratches were visible, very much so and sometimes people would comment on them. But as opposed to actual cuts, these scratches were much easier to ‘explain’ or ‘justify’. I would say that my cat had caused them or that I had an allergic reaction. As irrational as it may sound it gave me a form of outlet without the pressure of making people overly concerned.
Whilst these scratches were obviously pretty visible many of my other self sabotages weren’t. For a period of over 2 months I used to be drunk almost every day. I used the alcohol to drown out all the mixed emotions I felt after a bad break up. I didn’t want to feel or think for that matter. Looking back now I realise how damaging this kind of behaviour was to myself. Not only did I do nothing but spend most of my days in bed, I lost interest in things I enjoyed, I isolated myself from friends, I became angry and aggressive. Not to mention all the toxins I put into my body in such a short amount of time. But at the time it felt like the right thing to do, it helped me cope with a situation that I didn’t know how else to cope with.
Restricting food / Overeating
Restricting food and/or over eating were another way in wich I had done myself no good. Getting bullied in my teenage years, mostly due to my appearance, I soon became obsessed with the idea that I had to be skinny in order for me to be deserving of respect. Months of internet searches led to a downward spiral of counting calories, saving “thinspo” pictures on my laptop and ended in an extremely toxic cycle of restricting food for sometime, then ultimately giving in and binge eating – followed by guilt until the whole thing repeated itself. Over and over again. At the time it seemd like the only logical thing to do, it seemed like this was the way I had to go to finally be accepted by others. Little did I know how much I was putting my body through.
When I just started out in my first job I didn’t realise how hard budgeting actually is. I would spend money on things I didn’t actually need which left my bank account in overdraft almost every month to the point that I had almost nothing left after having paid the necessary bills. Yet I kept impulsively buying things. I was addicted to that little rush of joy you get when you buy something new. It made me feel alive, if only for a while. In the long run it put me in a lot of trouble financially that I am still dealing with to this day.
Probably one of the biggest things I did to sabotage myself was ALWAYS putting everyone else’s needs before mine. Whether it was a stranger or friend or a family member. I always put myself last, even when I was in an awful place mentally I would make sure that other people’s needs were met before even considering my own ones. I know now that a lot of this behaviour stems from values that I had internalised during my childhood but I can say that it has seriously affected the way I socialise and behave around other people now. And whilst I am slowly learning to put my own needs above all I still find myself slipping back into old patterns sometimes.
These are just a few ways of self harming that may not be very obvious at first glance. Others might include:
- Using blunt objects to harm oneself (i.e. headbanging, ligaturing)
- Avoiding seeing a doctor when ill
- Purposefully reading/watching things that trigger or upset a person
- Purposefully wearing the wrong type of clothes (for example underdressing in cold weather so one would constantly be cold)
- Entering toxic relationships or staying in them
- Burning onself for example with too hot water
These things are not always visible but they are all diffetent forms of self harm. We like to associate self harm with only visible cuts but there is so much more to it than just physical injury.
What can you do to help someone who you suspect might be harming themselves in one way or another?
First of all, I would advise you to be discrete. Often people already feel guilty or ashamed of having done things to harm themselves. It’s always a good idea to ask them how they are feeling at the moment and then actively listen. Instead of blaming them, ask HOW you can help them. Ask what they need, offer a non judgemental space for them to vent. It’s often very hard to break habits that might have persisted for years. Trying to just get people to stop doing these things could possibly result in it all just getting worse. You can offer to help them look into counselling or therapy options or help them find some online resources. Remember, you can’t help everyone and it’s not your job to do so. But you can always offer to listen and try your best to understand their situation. Sometimes that alone could help a person more than you might think.
Much love, Kerstin