I’ve been self harming for 3 years now. I’ve been trying to stop for the past 6 months, but I every time I tried it ended up getting worse. I told my best friend and both my mother and my girlfriend found out. I am now seeing a therapist, which is helping a bit. But I’ve never had urges so strong or relapses this bad and my anxiety is eating me alive. I can feel myself distancing: I’ve never been like this – I just sit by myself at school don’t want to get up or talk to anyone, and throw a fit whenever someone asks me to take a walk. I just feel like this is leading to something bad. My girlfriend used to have a self harming problem and she keeps saying I should get a therapist from the hospital because they can give me medication to help this. But I dont know how to talk to my mom about how I feel without feeling like I’m disappointing her.
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I’m so glad that you decided to write to us at Trevor. The fact that you recognize that you want to change your behavior and are able to speak up about it – even in writing your letter – shows how brave and courageous you are. I think it’s very important to understand what can cause people to practice self-harm.
Many individuals engage in this behavior in order to manage difficult, painful, overwhelming emotions or stress. It can sometimes feel like it relieves stress or tension or create distance from emotional pain. Some people are angry at someone in their life and take the anger out on themselves by practicing self-harm. Others feel that the self-harm gives them a feeling of control when things in the life or their emotions feel out of control. Still others feel numb or “dead inside” and self-harm helps them to feel alive.
With the anxiety that you’re feeling – the fear of disappointing your mother, the uneasiness around being around other people , the nervousness about speaking with your mother – it’s understandable that you would need to find a way to manage these emotions. At the same time, it’s important to understand that self-harm can result in long-term complications which could put your health in danger. For example, it can lead to permanent scars, infections and potentially threatening medical problems if you happen to cut a major blood vessel.
In addition, you have probably realized that this behavior is likely going to make your anxiety worse in the long-run. Although it might temporarily seem like an escape, it can actually make worse the feelings of shame and anxiety that you’re currently experiencing.
The next time you feel inclined to harm yourself, there are things that you can do instead that will be less emotionally and physically harmful. Think about how you feel before and after you cut yourself. If cutting helps to release anger, you might try getting the anger out in another way like hitting a pillow, stomping around in heavy shoes, ripping up an old newspaper or flattening aluminum cans. If cutting helps you when you’re sad, do whatever makes you feel taken care of and comforted. That may be listening to certain songs, calling a friend or eating a favorite food. Sometimes, writing in a journal or drawing/painting helps a person to feel better. For some people, doing something physical like running outdoors or yoga can help relieve stress. If the self-harm helps you to feel less numb, do something that creates a sharp physical feeling like putting your hand briefly in ice water or stamp your feet on the ground). There are websites available including www.safe-alternatives.com and http://www.helpguide.org/mental/self_injury.htm that can help you learn about cutting as well as additional things you can do when you have the urge to cut.
It can be very difficult to stop cutting and it would be important to tell a trusted adult (perhaps your therapist or a guidance counselor at school if you feel that you can’t talk to your mother) about the cutting in order for them to work with to find safer and healthier ways to deal with the hard things you’re experiencing. You can always call 1-800-DON’TCUT where you can be referred to a different therapist in your area. When you have the urge to cut, you can always call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386) and talk with a Trevor lifeline counselor about what you’re feeling and experiencing as well as your urge to cut which can help to delay or stop the urge to cut.
Once again, I’m so impressed that you found the courage to write us here at the Trevor Project. I can imagine how many things are on your mind, but just remember that you always have choices besides engaging in self-harm that can lead you to a happier place. In the meantime, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to us again. We are rooting for you!
Your Friends at Trevor