I Really Want to Self-Harm But Here’s Why I Don’t
(Yes, this gets a trigger warning.)
My History with Self-Harm
I used to self-harm, sometimes known as self-injury, self-mutilation or nonsuicidal self-injury. It started when I was 13. I remember the first time. I remember thinking that the point on a compass (used for geometry glass) was very, very sharp. And then I remember thinking what a bad daughter I was. And then I remember using the very sharp compass point over and over on my flesh until I had dug a line extending about two inches on my ankle. After that, it happened again and again. I remember thinking I deserved it. And when I got older, it became more apparent that I was using that behavior as a way of dealing with pain that I couldn’t control. At 13, I didn’t get this, but at 17, I did. At 17, I was aware of the acute, painful, depressed (although I didn’t know it was depression), suicidal feelings I was having but I had no way of dealing with them so out would come the Exacto knife (I had graduated to actual blades when I was quite young). But things got better when I graduated from high school and got away from my very sick family. Over time, I stopped self-harming without really trying. I knew I didn’t want to do it so eliminating the behavior was simple once the pain lessened.
The Pain of Depression Returned, and So Did the Self-Harm
Unfortunately, the pain came back a couple of years later. When I was 19 or so, the depression really hit, like being bludgeoned with a 2×4 with nails hammered into the end of it. The pain, in all its infinite darkness, had returned. And so did the self-harming behaviors. Self-harm was being driven by the pain. [Some people say self-harm is an addiction and I don’t believe this to be the case for most. I would simply call it a maladaptive coping strategy. But that is for another post.] Of course, by this time, I required considerable more injury to try and overcome the pain. Self-harm is like that. It starts to require greater severity to get the same result. Yes, you become tolerant of self-harm’s “high.” When it started again, I self-harmed for years. It was the oddest thing. I only associated self-harm with angsty teenage girls but there I was, a full-fledged adult, self-harming with the best of them. However, after a lot of personal work and a lot of prodding by the people who loved me, I curbed that behavior. As I mentioned, self-harm is a maladaptive coping technique and beating it involves finding better ways to cope with pain (or lessening the pain, should that be an option for you).
My Current Use of Self-Harm – I Want to Self-Harm
I can say I haven’t self-harmed in a long time. Unfortunately, I can also say that I want to self-harm often. This is because of the excruciating pain I’m in thanks to under-controlled bipolar depression. I’m in so much pain that my usual coping strategies don’t work and I want to fall back onto self-harm. This is a very strong urge and one I fight almost every day. But I don’t do it. I don’t self-harm. And I think this is because I understand the roots of the behavior, I understand why my brain is pushing me to self-harm and I understand that doing it does hurt those around me. People do care if I slice my arm open. They really do. (Even if they didn’t, I would care. I have nerve damage in my right arm thanks to this particular coping strategy and I really advise against causing that.) Wanting to self-harm and not doing it is torture, honestly. Desiring something, all the time, and not being able to have it, having it be just out of reach, is agony. Even though I’m the one who chooses to keep it out of reach, that doesn’t make it grate on my insides any less. And the thing that really gets me is that with the bipolar depression, I want almost nothing. But I do want to self-harm. It’s an incredibly cruel twist of the brain.
How Not to Self-Harm – Even When You Want to Self-Harm
Not self-harming can be a challenge for people, for some more than others and it’s okay to admit that it’s a challenge and it’s okay to admit that you lose that fight once in a while. But I still think it’s important to fight the urge as much as possible. Say to yourself:
- “Self-harm hurts myself and others.”
- “Self-harm is a way of coping with immense pain. The pain is real but there are better ways of handling it.”
- “Just because I want it, doesn’t mean I have to give into it. Want does not necessitate action.”
- “I deserve to be treated well. The soul of me being knows this. It’s just an evil monkey on my shoulder that’s trying to convince me otherwise. I can fight that dark voice.”
I can’t promise that self-talk will save your skin or prevent the next scar, but it really can’t hurt to try. It’s battling an illogical act (self-harm) with logical self-talk. It’s using the wisdom of your mind to battle the illness in your brain. I know not giving into the desire hurts. But giving into nonsuicidal self-injury is worse. Just ask the nerves in my right arm. For more on avoiding self-injury, please see Stopping Self-Harm Urges Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.