There is no shame here. If you cause physical harm to your body in order to deal with overwhelming feelings, know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s likely that you’re keeping yourself alive and maintaining psychological integrity with the only tool you have right now. It’s a crude and ultimately self-destructive tool, but it works; you get relief from the overwhelming pain/fear/anxiety in your life. The prospect of giving it up may be unthinkable, which makes sense; you may not realize that self-injury isn’t the only or even best coping method around.
For many people who self-injure, though, there comes a breakthrough moment when they realize that change is possible, that they can escape, that things can be different. They begin to believe that other tools do exist and begin figuring out which of these non-self-destructive ways of coping work for them. This site exists to help you come closer to that moment.
How do you know if you self-injure? It may seem an odd question to some, but a few people aren’t sure if what they do is “really” self-injury. Answer these questions:
- Do you deliberately cause physical harm to yourself to the extent of causing tissue damage (breaking the skin, bruising, leaving marks that last for more than an hour)?
- Do you cause this harm to yourself as a way of dealing with unpleasant or overwhelming emotions, thoughts, or situations (including dissociation)?
- If your self-harm is not compulsive, do you often think about SI even when you’re relatively calm and not doing it at the moment?
If you answer #1 and #2 yes, you are a self-injurer. If you answer #3 yes, you are most likely a repetitive self-injurer. The way you choose to hurt yourself could be cutting, hitting, burning, scratching, skin-picking, banging your head, breaking bones, not letting wounds heal, among others. You might do several of these. How you injure yourself isn’t as important as recognizing that you do and what it means in your life.
Self-injurious behavior does not necessarily mean you were an abused child. It usually indicates that somewhere along the line, you didn’t learn good ways of coping with overwhelming feelings. You’re not a disgusting or sick; you just never learned positive ways to deal with your feelings.
Please try to make yourself safe before proceeding; some of these pages contain material that may temporarily intensify the urge to self-harm in some people. If you are struggling with the impulse to self-injure right now, you may want to skip directly to the self-help section. If you’re new to the concept of self-injury and don’t know where to start, try this quick primer on SI. The primer is also useful if you find some of the other pages here too technical.
© Deb Martinson (adapted)