It can be difficult to understand why someone you care about might hurt herself on purpose, but people experiencing profound emotional distress can turn to self-harm as an outlet for their feelings. What constitutes self-harm, and what can you do if a friend or loved one has formed this habit?
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-harm, in and of itself, does not constitute a mental illness. The behavior is, however, a symptom of several mental health issues, including borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and PTSD.
Those at the most risk for self-harm are people who have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse. This behavior often stems from a place of overwhelming pain, desperation or anger. In many cases, self-harm becomes a way to channel these complicated emotions into action.
Women who purposely cut or burn themselves may do so because it provides them with a sense of control in challenging circumstances. Or, they might wish to cause themselves pain because they feel numb in other areas of their life. If someone regularly abuses intoxicating substances and then engages in self-harm, she places herself at a higher risk of severe injury, because alcohol and drugs lower inhibitions.
Self-harm can create intense shame and guilt, which can, in turn, cause someone to hurt herself again. The behavior can become a self-perpetuating cycle or even take on ritualistic qualities. Self-harm isn’t the same as attempting suicide, nor is it necessarily an attention-seeking behavior. However, it is a serious indicator of tremendous emotional anguish. Someone who self-harms should seek help and learn ways to replace destructive behaviors with healthy coping mechanisms.
What Can You Do When Someone You Know Self-Harms?
Maybe you’ve noticed a friend or family member with frequent bruises or bandages. Someone who wears long sleeves and pants even in warm weather could be trying to hide cuts, burn marks or scars. She might also seem withdrawn and depressed, or have trouble enjoying being around other people.
If you’re worried that someone you care about might be deliberately hurting herself, gently broach the topic, and be ready to listen without judgment. You could say something like, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is everything OK?” One of the best things you can do is to tell her that while you might not be able to put yourself in her shoes, you are fully supportive of her need to get help. If she seems open to the idea, offer to find treatment. Never blame or shame someone for destructive behavior, and don’t try to force her to break the habit on her own, since quitting requires far more than self-discipline.
A Healing Sanctuary
If someone close to you is engaging in self-harm or other signs of trauma, it’s crucial to get her help as soon as possible. The best way to treat co-occurring disorders is to address them simultaneously in an environment that can tailor a treatment plan to match specific needs. As a women’s-only facility, Canyon Crossing is in a unique position of being able to provide a compassionate approach to healing. Reach out to us when you’re ready to learn more.