Why People Self Harm

The first time I cut myself, I had the same thoughts cycling through my brain.

“You’re a loser. Nobody likes you. You’re worth nothing.”

I don’t know if a certain event set off my anguish or if it was just another depressive episode. Either way, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and retreated to my “Woman Cave.” I dragged the knife across my skin until I drew blood.

I felt instant relief, as weird as that sounds. I was in so much mental and physical pain from depression, and all I wanted was to feel something else. Anything else. This is called self-harming. By definition, self-harming or self-injury is the deliberate act of harming your body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It is not intended to be a suicide attempt.

Usually, people tend to self-harm when they’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and don’t know any other way to cope.

Research shows that self-injury occurs in about 4 percent of adults in the U.S., according to Mental Health America. The most common methods of self-injury are cutting (70 to 90 percent), head banging or hitting (20 to 40 percent) and burning (15 to 35 percent).

Obviously, this isn’t a health way of coping, but I understand all too well the need to escape intense pain and doing anything that might make you feel better, however temporary that is. But evidence shows that over time, those emotions, along with guilt and shame, will continue to be present and may even worsen, according to Psychology Today.

The roots of self-harming behavior are often found in early childhood trauma, including physical, verbal or sexual abuse. It’s also an indication of serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder. I had zero childhood trauma, but do have major depression and anxiety.

It’s important to note that self-harm occurs most often in teens and young adults (I was in my early 20s when I started self-harming). Data shows that 6 to 14 percent of adolescent boys and 17 to 30 percent of adolescent girls are self-harming.

Just reading that overwhelms me. This is an issue that we can’t just skip over. Every adult needs to be educated on the warning signs, symptoms and treatment. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to mental health.

Failure to respond to this behavior when it firsts starts could lead to a lifetime of mental illness, and I definitely don’t recommend that.

I was lucky taht I only had a few instances of self-injury. Some get addicted to hurting themselves or develop other reckless behavior to help cope. Fortunately, this is something that can be treated and people can make full recoveries from.

Here are some symptoms of self-injury:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Warning signs/risk factors:

  • Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Relationship problems or avoidance of relationships, and
  • Poor functioning at work, school or home

If you are suicidal , please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Personal Growth is So Annoying

I’ve found myself saying “personal growth is so annoying” all week — to my husband, therapist, best friend. It’s been a week of intense introspection where I’ve realized I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should. I’ve fallen off the wagon of self care, careening right into binge eating and negative self talk. All these negative thoughts have been ruminating in my head.

I’m beautiful, and my body is beautiful.
I need to appreciate and nurture it

But the thing bothering me the most is my binge eating. Last year I had weight loss surgery — the gastric sleeve — and I really can’t eat a whole lot. But I find myself pushing my limits, eating until I’m uncomfortably full and can hardly breathe. I’ve gained about 15 pounds since the start of COVID-19, and I’m so ashamed. I should be thinner almost a year after my surgery. I shouldn’t be drinking Diet Coke. I shouldn’t be eating junk all day long — so long that sometimes my jaw hurts from chewing all the crap I put in my mouth.

I feel like a failure, but today I hit a breaking point. I’d been eating all day. It felt like my skin didn’t fit anymore and suddenly I was aware of every inch of my skin. I took a bath and tried to wash away my overeating sins and shame.

Then it hit me. I have to stop doing this. There was a reason I got the weight loss surgery, and it shouldn’t be a quick fix, it should be a tool, and I need to start using it as such. I’m not a lost cause. Sure, I’ve gained 15 pounds, but who hasn’t in the midst of the pandemic? Not that it’s an excuse. But I have to start eating more healthily or I truly believe I’ll put myself in an early grave.

For the first time in a long time I feel hope. I told David what I was thinking, and he was very understanding as always. I know sometimes I put him in a hard spot because I ask him to help me be accountable but then get mad when he tries to help.

He told me he believed in me and had a suggestion: I need to quit Diet Coke. This hit me hard. I’ve struggled for a decade trying to quit Diet Coke. When I got the surgery, I did for a bit, but then started taking sips here and there, which turned into a 12-pack every week, then two 12-packs.

I love Diet Coke. I love that when I come downstairs in the morning with the kids, who are usually arguing and not telling me what they want for breakfast, that the first thing I do is grab a Diet Coke. The first few sips are the best — it burns all the way down and is so crisp. I usually down the first one fast, then maybe one or two more before I take the kids. Then a couple throughout the day. It feels like a treat. Why I feel I need a treat that often, I do not know. It almost feels like a security blanket.

But diet soda just isn’t good for you (especially if you’ve had the sleeve), and although I love it, I must say good-bye. I need to bid farewell to disorderly eating. Logically, I know it’s not good for me, but in the moment I think it will be great. And it might taste amazing, but any pleasure I get is temporary.

Any pleasure I get is temporary. What’s not is the shame I feel. The discomfort and pain, too. That seems so permanent.

After my discussion with David, I threw out all the Diet Coke I had in the house, even the ones that I just bought today. It’s silly, but it made me so sad. I threw out the Butterfinger I had hidden in the fridge, the bag of white cheddar popcorn and a box of Fruit Roll-ups. The food I don’t care about. Eating healthy seems so much easier than forgoing my diet soda habit.

But I have to do what I have to do, because isn’t that all a form of self-harm — bingeing on junk food and chugging Diet Coke? I’m only eating my feelings, trying to bury them down deep and hoping for the best. I think it’s safe to say that this is not a healthy or productive way to deal with life. And someone like me, whose brain doesn’t function properly, can’t live that way. Nobody can, actually.

I have to learn to sit with my feelings. I have to retrain my brain on what constitutes as a “treat.” I have to rein in the negative ruminations. I have to get uncomfortable, be more vulnerable and let go of these actions that once served me but now do not.

Personal growth is so annoying.

But necessary.

Stay in the light.