A young man sitting on the floor against a bank of lockers with his head in his hands

Self-Harm Breakdown From a Teen Who’s Been There

A young man sitting on the floor against a bank of lockers with his head in his hands

With many young people struggling with depression and other mental health challenges, some are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. (Photo by Yosi Prihantoro on Unsplash)

Commentary, Anonymous

Editor’s note: The author is a local high school student whose identity we know but have decided not to share given the nature of this piece. If you are hurting yourself or thinking about it, help is available. You can find resources on the website of To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit that helps people facing mental health struggles such as depression and self-injury.

Self-harm is not an easy topic to discuss. If you’re here, there must be a reason. Whatever that may be, I would like to say that I am so sorry. The purpose of this article is to help, not to influence. If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm, please seek help from a professional immediately.

With that being said, here is a firsthand account of self-harm from a teenager who has experienced it.

What is Self Harm & Why Do People Do It?

Self-harm is a physical form of coping that many individuals use to relieve emotional distress. This is especially the case when individuals are overwhelmed or feeling more upset than usual.

In my case, I didn’t realize why I was self harming when I was doing it. I just knew that it helped in the moment, even if I felt guilty about it afterwards. Those who self-harm usually don’t know exactly why. They just know it helps them calm down in a moment of stress and instability. When someone is self-harming, there could be many explanations why they are resorting to a physically detrimental form of coping. It could be a distraction from difficult feelings.

When one is upset, and they begin to self-harm, it takes their focus away from what is going on in their head and brings it to the feeling of a physical sensation. For me, when I would self-harm, it would almost always take my mind off the mess going on inside my head; it worked as a distraction. Another reason why people resort to self-harm is because they may feel guilty, as though they deserve it. Sometimes, when I felt guilty about something or insecure about myself, I would feel as though it was my fault that this thing was happening to me, and therefore, I needed to punish myself for it. I thought that I deserved to be physically reprimanded by myself because of the way I believed I was making others feel.

Signs to Look Out For:

Long Sleeves

When someone you love starts to wear longer sleeves or longer pants extremely often, this could be a sign that they are self-harming. This, however, is very unreliable. Just because someone starts to wear pieces of clothing with sleeves does not mean that they are self-harming; they could just like the style or feel insecure about their arms. However, for me, when I would self-harm on my wrists, I wouldn’t want others to see it (especially parents) so I would hide my marks with long sleeves.

Long Span of Sadness

If someone seems to be going through a long state of sadness, this could definitely be a sign. When I was experiencing long spans of sadness that was when I was most likely to self-harm. This, however, does not mean that this person cannot be genuinely happy at times. For me, it would sometimes come in waves. Most of the time, when I would self-harm, it was because I was extremely overwhelmed with emotions, and not entirely because I was feeling sad. This was most likely to happen, however, when I was experiencing long spans of depressive episodes.

Low Self-Esteem or Confidence

For me, the most likely time I would self-harm was when I was feeling insecure. It could be about anything: looks, eating habits, personality, or even the way I felt I was affecting others.

When it was about physical appearance, I thought I looked ugly. Because of that, I thought I deserved what I was doing to myself. When it was about eating habits, the types of eating habits could vary. When I felt I was eating too little, I would feel guilty because I knew that was unhealthy, so I believed I should punish myself. When I felt I was eating too much, I felt that I would get obese, which was something I did not want to be because of the toxic way that I viewed beauty.

For that reason, I felt ashamed, and I wanted to distract myself from that feeling. The only way I knew how was to self-harm, so that was what I continued to do. When I self-harmed because of personality, or how I was affecting others, it was mostly about how good of a person I felt I was.

Usually, when I felt like I was making bad choices overall, I would tend to self-harm more, and when I felt that I was making better choices for myself and others, I would tend to self-harm less. The way I treat myself and others greatly impacts how I feel about myself, and it still does.

How to Help Someone Who Is Experiencing Self-Harm

There are many ways to help people who are experiencing self-harm. One is to be there for them. If I felt alone, I was more likely to self-harm. If I had no one to go to, I felt as though I had no other option than to go through what I was going through on my own.

This can also mean checking up on them. The more I felt cared for, the more likely I felt like I could go to someone about my issues. This doesn’t always work, however, because I didn’t want to put a burden on people that I cared for and who I knew were already going through hard things of their own. If someone had told me that they truly cared, and that it didn’t matter that they were going through their own things, I think that I would have felt more able to tell them about my self-harming.

Another way to help people who are self-harming is to stress the idea of therapy to them. Although for some, therapy is not helpful, it will give them ideas of ways to cope that are not as detrimental to their body. You can also suggest other ways of coping, if you know any. The biggest thing that helped me to get out of self-harming, was to think about the scars that it was leaving on my body. I hated not being able to wear short-sleeved shirts. I hated not being able to wear a swimsuit without someone asking about the scars on my body. I didn’t want to have scars anymore, so the only solution was to stop self-harming. That, for me, was my biggest reason for stopping my habits of self harm.

Self-harm is an extremely serious topic. If someone is not yet exposed to the idea of self-harm, do not expose them to it. I think a major reason I started to self-harm was because of the fact that I was exposed to it. If you yourself are experiencing self-harm, please know there are many things that you can turn to that are healthier and better than self-harm. You can break the habit. I believe in you. For those of you who know someone who is experiencing self-harm, just be there for them. That is the biggest thing that you can do. Shower the people you love with love.

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