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Understanding Self Harm is Important

Updated on August 15, 2009

No one can hurt me as much as I can hurt myself.

If you have found this page chances are you or someone you know practices self harm. This behavior can be very scary and confusing, even for the person who is engaging in self harm. I have personally battled with this this compulsion. I have managed somehow to break the cycle of thoughts and feelings that would lead me to self harm. I will do my best here to share some of my understandings and insights so that others can some day say they have stopped self harming too. I am also going to share with you a book that can give a more medical and professional account of self harm. Just in case you do not read through to that point I will tell you know that the book is called 'A bright Red Scream' and I would urge you to get your hands on a copy and have a good read.

Understanding self harm is vitally important for over coming it. When I was self harming I felt that I was at the mercy of unknown forces that drove me to self harm, these urges would just magically happen that were so strong I couldn't resist (and didn't really want to). When we think we are helpless to forces beyond our control we have no hope of ever overcoming what is happening in our heads. 

If you self harm try to analyze what exactly happens in the minutes and seconds before you get that first self harm urge. This practice is uncomfortable and very difficult, I wont lie to you by saying its easy. The trigger can be very hard to find and as long as you cannot identify the trigger you will continue to be vulnerable to it. Self harm is very much like an addiction, when you try to quit it seems that the need increases at first and it takes a long time to break that addiction same as any other.

One of the hardest things for me to understand and on of the most powerful tools in my emotional tool kit is understanding how we come to feel emotions. Has anyone ever said to you 'you chose to feel angry, no one makes you angry' (you can substitute any emotion with anger there)? I used to think, what? you don't understand at all! I most certainly do not choose to feel depressed and angry and upset all the time! I finally had someone explain why this statement is true. It has to do with the process that leads us from some event to the emotions we experience. First there will be an event, something outside of your control. Next you will have some thought about that event and the nature of that thought leads directly to how you will feel. You cannot control the event and really you cannot control the emotional response either. What you can control is that middle step, the thought you had about the event. It may have been such a passing thought that you didn't even notice it, but it effected you anyway.

When you can identify the thoughts that occur just before the urge to self harm (the thought related to some event, probably a little tiny event so small its barely noticeable) and change that thought you will have taken control over your emotions as you can chose to find a more positive thought to have.

This is the most powerful stuff I have to share, if you would like to know and understand more continue reading as I am about to tell you about one of the best books written on the topic of self harm.

A bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain

This is the only book on self harm that I have read that I would suggest someone to read who wishes to understand the behaviors of self harm.

Marilee Strong wrote this book with a high level of compassion and even as a self harmer I found it illuminating. In this book she documents interviews with more then 50 individuals who self harm and tells their stories. She has interwoven these compelling stories with related research, commentary from clinical experts, and explorations into the historical and cultural contexts of self harm. 

Marilee Strong successfully sets out to explode some of the myths and misunderstandings associated with cutting. The beauty is how she uses the first person stories and narratives to convey the conflict of inflicting pain to relieve pain, to sooth themselves and purge their inner demons. She makes clear that self harm is a symbol of the fight to stay alive rather then a suicidal gesture.

This book is a valuable read for anyone who has been touched by this issue in their lives. It offers a doorway into understanding the dark and secretive world of self harm. You don't have to be a troubled teenage girl to struggle with self harm. The stories and narration will show you just how deep this issue is, stories include those from middle aged professionals to grandparents, this isn't just a teen issue.


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    • kirstenblog profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London UK

      Papaya - I am sorry not to have replied sooner, actually I am about to be offline for a few weeks so I have been pretty busy the last week or so. It sounds like you are really going through some tough times right now. I can sympathise with feeling depressed, especially at having your brother living separate from you. My brothers are still little boys in my memory even tho they are long grown, I don't feel as tho I really know the men they have become. You get stronger in this life with time and a few good people around (even if they aren't your family) but it stays a sadness, what changes is the ability to bear that sadness and allow present joys to co-exist with that sadness. I do hope you find those good people to keep your chin above water until your life is more your own. Please feel free to comment again or if you want, sign up and write about your experiences, you might be surprised at the response people give :D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I do appreciate this article on the understanding that I, myself, am a cutter. I started when I met this girl with shot nerves; she cut herself in an attempt to feel something. As for me, I started it as an outlet to the pressure handed to me by my parents' and their divorce. My younger brother now lives with my father while I live with my mother. We've been separated and haven't seen or spoken to each other for a year now. It's...depressing and such, but I ruefully hate my mother and father now.

    • samboiam profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      Enjoyed this article. So many are caught up in self destruction. Hope they find the path to freedom.

    • kirstenblog profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from London UK

      nrgalloway- Thanks for the info on SAFE, its not the program I used but its great that there is more then one program that actually inspires people and helps us to succeed in creating a better life for ourselves. I hope that if some reader comes along who has not heard of SAFE and didn't like or couldn't access DBT (the one I mention) they have something they can do searches for.

    • nrgalloway24 profile image


      9 years ago from Bedford, Pa

      It's a good article, but self-harm also has a biological component. When someone is hurt the body releases endorphins, natural pain killers and feel good chemicals. A person can become addicted to that as well. But you are right, one of the most important things to understand self-harm is understanding your emotions. There are a lot of good books and websites that address this issue. One of the best is Self abuse finally ends or SAFE, which actually has a program for self-injurers. I graduated from this program and can honestly say it changed my life. The program also publishes an excellent book on treatment.

    • dohn121 profile image


      9 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Thank you, Kirsten for sharing this. It's good to see that you have shared not only someone else's conflict with self-harm but your own as well. Just by admitting that Strong's book did in fact helped you, others may follow suit as understanding the cause is the gateway to its cure. A wonderful job of insight.


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