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Selfharm: why people hurt themselves
Selfharm: why people hurt themselves

For some, self-harm can help fight mental pain, but it is potentially dangerous.

Selfharm: why people hurt themselves
Selfharm: why people hurt themselves

What is selfharm

Self-harm (also used for self-cutting) is inflicting damage on your body without the goal of killing yourself. Selfharm has an official name - non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), "non-suicidal self-injury."

In the International Classification of Diseases, NSSI is understood very broadly. This includes not only cuts, burns, bumps, refusal to eat and drink, pulling hair and scratching the skin, but also physical damage deliberately received:

  • in an accident;
  • from falls and jumps;
  • from other people, dangerous animals and plants;
  • in water;
  • from suffocation;
  • from the use of drugs, medications, other biological and chemical substances (this includes alcohol abuse);
  • as a result of contact with other objects.

Self-Harm is sometimes included in this list. Psychology Today and notoriously unsafe sex.

This generalization is not considered acceptable by all specialists. For example, the National Institute for Health and Excellence (NICE, UK) suggests that eating and drinking problems should not be included in the list of self-harm.

One way or another, this is deliberate infliction of pain and injury to oneself.

Who and why does selfharming

Selfharm is most common among adolescents and young adults, usually from 13-14 years of age. Their number differs in the assessments of experts, but most often it is said that about 10% of adolescents have had experience of self-harm in one way or another. Most of them did not seek help.

However, selfharm is not limited by age limits: such aspirations are noticed even among people over 65 years old. The most susceptible to NSSI are people prone to self-criticism and negative attitudes towards themselves, and more of them are among women, as well as non-heterosexual people of both sexes. Men are more likely to inflict wounds on themselves with blows and fire, and women - with the help of sharp objects.

As a rule, the reasons for self-harm that are not related to any personal interests (for example, unwillingness to serve in the army) are negative emotions and an inability to control them, as well as depression and anxiety. In addition, self-harm can be caused by:

  • past negative experiences: trauma, violence and abuse, chronic stress;
  • high emotionality and excessive sensitivity;
  • a feeling of loneliness and isolation (even those people who seem to have a lot of friends can feel it);
  • alcohol abuse and drug use;
  • feeling of own worthlessness.

Most often (according to polls - up to 90%) people resort to such self-flagellation because it extinguishes negative emotions for a while, gives a feeling of calmness and relief, which they cannot achieve in other ways.

Another common reason (found in 50% of cases) is dislike for your body or for yourself in general. In this case, selfharm becomes a kind of self-punishment or anger taking out. Finally, for a small proportion of self-harming people, it can be an attempt to draw the attention of others to their condition, or a way to clothe moral suffering in physical form.

In addition to the above reasons, people resort to selfharming in order to regain a sense of control over their lives and, oddly enough, to fight suicidal thoughts.

Experts in the field of neurosciences explain the phenomenon of selfharma by the fact that those who are prone to it more easily endure physical pain, but react more sharply to mental pain. So, in 2010, experts in psychosomatic medicine from Germany during an experiment found that those who injured themselves are able to keep their hands in ice water longer.

Perhaps the genes responsible for the production of serotonin are to blame for this, which do not provide the body with the required amount. According to another version, selfharm is associated with a lack of opioid hormones, such as peptides and endorphins, and causing damage stimulates their production.

What is the danger of selfharm

Self-harm and suicide are often considered to be of the same kind, but this is not correct. Thus, self-harm is much more common than suicidal behavior, and most self-harming people do not seek death.

Nevertheless, the combination of self-harm with the desire to commit suicide is not uncommon. Selfharm can also be closely related to the risk of future suicide. In addition, self-harming people, although infrequently, still run the risk of accidentally killing themselves.

They also run the risk of facing judgments and bias from others. For example, American researchers in a 2018 article write that selfharm is much more stigmatized than other pain-related practices, such as tattoos or religious self-torture rituals. This becomes one of the reasons why people with such a problem do not seek help.

Is it necessary to treat the craving for selfharma

Since the phenomenon of self-harm has been closely studied not so long ago (only since the early 2000s), clear boundaries between selfharm as a mental disorder and a normal state have not been defined.

However, scientists already have some data, and they refute some misconceptions about self-harm. For example, American psychologists have proven that selfharm has nothing to do with borderline personality disorder, as previously thought.

The main danger of self-harm is that it usually occurs in secret and alone with oneself.

A person uses selfharm as a way to quickly cope with negative experiences, while he does not seek help, and the reasons that cause deviant aspirations do not disappear. This creates a vicious circle that makes people unable to cope with stress and tension in other ways. In the end, this can lead to serious injury and even suicide or accidental death.

Therefore, it is definitely necessary to fight against addiction to selfharma.

How to deal with self-harm cravings

When to contact a specialist and how he can help

It is worth talking to a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, even if you just periodically have thoughts of self-harm, and even more so if you have already inflicted injuries on yourself.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and its variants are considered to be the most common treatment for self-harm cravings. The effectiveness of this approach has been confirmed by comparative studies. CBT helps a person identify the causes of their destructive actions and find alternatives. Also, a specialist can prescribe medication. (In no case do not "prescribe" your own medicines!)

How to help yourself on your own

If you feel a desire to harm your own body or are already doing it, try talking to a person you trust and who will definitely understand you and will not judge you. Try to identify the reasons for your self-harming behavior. While you may feel embarrassed or ashamed doing this, you will be able to acknowledge the problem and begin to fight it.

Remember that asking for help is not embarrassing, and it can give you the confidence to fight negativity further.

It also makes sense in stressful situations, when there is a craving for selfharma, to use soothing breathing exercises.

If cases of aggression towards oneself are repeated from time to time, and the feeling of relief after them is quickly replaced by anxiety, depression, shame, self-hatred and the desire to feel pain again, an urgent need to contact a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

How to help another person

Often the parents sound the alarm when they notice signs of self-harm in a teenager, but often they do not know how to help him. In this situation, it is extremely important to timely respond to signals and support your child, not to scold or condemn him. For a person experiencing such a state, sympathy and support is very valuable, especially from parents.

The tendency to selfharming can be determined by the following criteria:

  • it is not clear where the injuries and scars appeared (mainly on the arms, hips and chest), as well as traces of blood on clothes or bedding;
  • thinning hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes);
  • the tendency to wear clothes that hide the arms, legs, neck, even in hot weather;
  • withdrawal, low self-esteem, prolonged periods of bad mood, tearfulness, loss of motivation and interest in something and destructive thoughts (this may indicate stress or depression without self-harm, but this state cannot be ignored anyway).

It is best to gently convince the teenager to see a specialist. This will be useful both for himself and for his parents - the therapist will tell you what to do for everyone.

If you want to help a loved one who is prone to self-harm, let him know that you are concerned, that you are always ready to listen to him and think together about how to solve the problem. Do not judge, avoid excessive pity and unnecessary questions. Be sure to suggest seeing a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, but let the person make decisions for themselves. If he or she trusts you and makes contact, you can try during the conversation to determine the reason for the deviant behavior and look for an alternative to it.

Keep in mind that not all forms of self-harm (such as alcohol cravings) are caused by mental health problems. In addition, not everyone who has had the experience of selfharming once resorts to it again. Therefore, do not jump to conclusions, do not panic, and remember the main rules for those who seek to help: be tactful, speak calmly and in no case be judgmental.