Less Harmful Ways of Dealing with Causes of Self-injury

Many people self-injure because of overwhelming emotions, stress, or depression. These are just my observations and I’m not a doctor. I do have a few ways of dealing with these issues instead of self-injuring. This is what I used to do when I was trying to quit self-injury, and they are less harmful:

  • Take a long, hot shower.
  • Do something artistic, like paint, color, or sketch. I used to draw when I was trying not to cut. My drawings were still depressing but it was better than cutting.
  • Write. Write for as long as you can. Write a poem, a short story, a song. I did this on an almost daily basis, it got my mind off of things.
  • Have a support group to call. Call your friends and rant to them when something is bothering you. Just talking about something, regardless of how bad it seems, may not sound as bad after verbalizing it.
  • Cry. Crying isn’t for the weak. Crying is for everyone. Crying makes you feel better. Crying is a great way to let out emotions.
  • Scream into a pillow. It has the same releasing effect that crying does.
  • Read a book. Get your mind off of whatever is making you depressed.
  • Clean. Going on a cleaning spree can make you feel so much better. You’re taking all the negative energy you have and putting it to work.
  • Exercise. Run, walk, do sit ups, swim, do anything to take your mind off of what’s going on and refocus.

These things always helped me cope as I tried to stop self-injuring. Remember though these are just my suggestions from my experience. If you self-injure or know someone who does you should seek help if at all possible.

Why do we need this on the West Coast?

When I used to self-injure I had nowhere to go. I had no one to talk to. I felt alone. If there had been somewhere for me to go to get help I would have. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to go see a therapist one-on-one though. That would have made me feel like something was wrong with me. Tis is why Karen Conterio’s S.A.F.E. Alternatives treatment plans are so great. Many of them are group sessions and are covered by most forms of insurance.

However looking at the locations many of them are only in held in the midwest or east coast. There are none on the west coast. Even their therapist recommendation page is lacking in therapist from the west coast, the only have a few for California, Washington and Colorado. There are none listed for Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Oregon.

I beleieve we need these programs to be in major cities in each of the western states. I think more self-injurers would be willing to go to therapy in a group format because they wouldn’t feel as alone and they could learn from others. I think this is the best way for self-injurers to heal and I think that Karen Conterio’s programs could be the vehicle in which this is accomplished.

Lack of Publicity and Advertising

I think that there is a lack of publicity for Karen Conterio’s S.A.F.E. Alternatives. It’s a great resource and it has great programs but I feel like it isn’t really known to those who need it most. They do have a list of all the press they are in and news shows they have done but I feel like that is really limited.

They need to advertise to youth. They need to find some way of reaching out to youth. Teens and young adults need the most help and they won’t go looking for it on their own. I didn’t and neither did my friends. Not one time did we think to use Google to try and find some sort of help.

I didn’t know S.A.F.E. Alternatives existed until I started researching for this blog. I really do wish I had know about S.A.F.E. Alternatives when I was self-injuring. I may have gone for help had I known it was out there. It would have been comforting to know that there were other people my age with the same problems. If I had been given the opportunity to be in group therapy I would have taken it. But the biggest problem was that I didn’t know I could get help anywhere, even from a regular therapist.

Teens and young adults know that self-injury occurs, that much is publicized thanks to shows like MTV’s True Life. Sure, True Life shows the stories and shows these girls getting help, but they don’t show you where to get help.

There needs to be a push to educate teens and young adults about what self-injury is and where to go for help.

Spotlight: Alyssa’s Story

I have already given you my friend Anna’s story. But I did have another close friend that also cut herself and she did so for different reasons than me or Anna. This is Alyssa’s story as told by her:

When she started:

I started cutting between the age of 12 or 13. It was in Middle School (7th or 8th grade) that I started.

This was her reasoning:

I was extremely depressed. It was an act of despair. A cry for help, yet somehow, the kind of “help” you receive once you’re caught or found out isn’t what you needed or wanted. Cutting for me was a means of distraction. An outlet. It was a way to deflect the pain I was feeling mentally and emotionally in a physical manner. The sadness I felt then, I feel was due to hormones and the tumultuous changes that accost pre-teens and teens and those who suffer from depression. The stress of school, the pressure to fit in and make friends, the pressure to establish “you” and form an identity that could be appreciated by others as well as yourself, family problems, boy drama, friend drama, all of that went into the helplessness and hopelessness and sadness I felt which caused me to cut. Sometimes there didn’t even need to be a reason for my emotional pain. I was just sad for no reason and I felt alone with my thoughts and dilemmas. Hence, turning that emotional pain which you cannot quench into a physical pain you could manage and control was what helped me get through those times. I continued cutting, because it made me feel better. Again, it gave me some control in a time where I had none. My goal was never to kill myself, although suicidal thoughts did seep into my mind. However, I feel that as a young, struggling child, you jump to the worst ideas without ever really meaning or wanting it. It’s the melodramatic side flaring out.

I think it’s important to mention that the idea of cutting didn’t randomly pop in my head one day. I remember watching a Lifetime movie when I was maybe 10 or 11 or maybe even 12. It focused on a young teenager girl who was sad, angry, depressed and cut. This is how I got the idea for self-injury. Without this movie, I’m not sure if I’d ever have thought to seek such extreme means of self-injury. I do not remember the name of the film, but it will forever stick with me.

What she used and where:

I used different things to cut. I used scissors and knives. I started with scissors, only doing superficial cuts that would be gone in a day or two. Just like a bad paper cut on your arm (on the forearm is where I cut most often). Then when I started to become desensitized to those superficial cuts and they just weren’t giving the satisfaction they once did (like drugs or alcohol) I upped the ante. That’s when I started using knives to cut. Those worked better and got deeper.

How she covered cuts and scars:

I hid them with clothes, that’s all. For arms, I wore jackets or long-sleeves. For legs, well, I always wore jeans anyways so that was easy.

Why and how she stopped: 

 I got caught once by friends when swimming and lied that my cats had scratched me. That’s when I switched to cutting my upper-inner thigh. The arm was always my favorite spot though. I stopped cutting when my Mother caught me. It’s like a dream to me now and something we never discuss happened. I had fallen asleep during the day, arm outstretched, and my sleeve neglected to cover the marks. I tried lying, saying the cats did it. She didn’t believe me. She was angry and said I needed to go to counseling. I felt insecure and scared and that if I were to go see a counselor, that would really mean something was wrong with me. I felt like I was a foreigner, a problem-child, I was only making things hard on her and myself. I felt guilty. I felt angry and I refused. Anger took over until she gave up and left me alone. Getting caught and almost forced to do something I didn’t want to do was enough for me to stop. It was hard to have your coping means taken away though and it took a while for the thoughts to slither off. I still have occasional thoughts when times get tough and I feel that black, dark hole of despair seep into my consciousness. It’s not as often though, really only triggered by difficult/ traumatic experiences in life. As I grew up, I was forced to find other means of dealing with my dark feelings. Eventually I learned how to quench them or dispel them in a mature, healthy manner. It’s easier to be happy than it is to be sad, although once in a bad mindset, this mentality is hard to grasp.

Final thoughts:

I don’t regret cutting, I just wished this didn’t need to be the means of teaching me healthy coping mechanisms. The hard path is sometimes necessary to take. I know it gives me a different perspective on things and I hope that my experience with it can help others to not have to take such a hard path in life.

My friend started because she wanted control in her life and in retrospect she realized she was also using it to get someone to notice and care, but she wouldn’t have even had the idea if she hadn’t seen it on television.  There is a problem when the media glamorizes it by putting it on television. Rather than making shows out of people’s issues the media should be helping by publicizing places for people to get help instead of unintentionally encouraging it.

An Interview with Dr. Wendy Lader

This is an interview Dr. Drew did with Dr. Wendy Lader, President and Clinical Director of the S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES Program, which was developed with Karen Conterio.

Dr. Drew asks teens why they cut and ask Dr.Lader about cutting becoming an epidemic. The video has some pretty interesting statistics throughout.

 

What should you do if someone you know is self-injuring?

The article “Cutting: Why Teens Hurt Themselves” by  Jeannette Moninger written on June 6th, 2011 for Family Circle magazine and Karen Conterio’s S.A.F.E. Alternatives website both have lists of what you should and shouldn’t do if you as a parents or friend find out your child or someone you know is self-injuring.

  • Don’t react with extreme emotions.
  • Don’t use threats or rewards to persuade your  child to stop.
  • Do not try to make them answer “why are you doing this?”
  • Speak calmly.
  • Express concern and loving while being nonjudgmental. If you are judgmental it may make them feel worse.
  • Just listen. You want to have communication so don’t offer your opinion or try to fix it.
  • Educate yourself so you can understand the self-injurer’s point of view.
  • Let them know you are concerned and there for them and there to help them.
  • Seek help professionally. If you are the friend of a self-injurer suggest that they talk to someone, perhaps a professional.
  • Help your child or friend identify the problem and get them to recognize they need help. Do this in a way that shows respect.

Basically it is important to make sure that you don’t make the self-injurer feel like there is something wrong with them. They may already think that and that is why they self-injure. You want to be someone they can talk to without them feeling judged. You do need to politely and respectfully inform them that they should seek help or have some. It’s not easy to stop on your own. Find group therapy if you can. I find that being in a group with people who have the same problem makes it easier to stop but also makes you feel more comfortable because you know people can relate.

Spotlight: Anna’s Story

As I have said before I used to self-injure (if you don’t know this read the about section). I also mentioned that two of my closest friends used to cut. Because they are wonderful women they are permitting me to blog their stories. This is Anna’s as told by her:

When she started:

I started cutting myself in 7th or 8th grade. I continued cutting myself on a regular basis until 10th grade, since then I’ve had limited bouts of lost self-control when things got really bad again.

This was her reasoning:

I fought with my parents and sister constantly, about grades, boys, her friends, about wanting to be more independent. We fought about everything. I felt that they didn’t understand anything about me or the world I was living in. I was so angry and felt so alone. Like no one was there to really see me. There was one boy who I fell ridiculously in love with, his life had been way worse than mine. I felt, what gives me the right to be so angry and desolate all the time? I thought, “How can I feel so bad inside that I want to cut my wrists, but this guy who really likes me, has been through so much more than me and he doesn’t hurt himself? What gives me the right to feel so awful all the time?” I wanted there to be some material reason that I felt so terrible, but there wasn’t.

Where she did it:

I cut up my wrists and my arms. It’s been years now, and most of the scars have faded. But I can still trace faint lines in my skin where I once dragged a blade across it. The scars in my mind are far worse than the physical ones.

How she hid it:

I wore long sleeved shirts or sweatshirts and heavy bracelets to hide the marks.

Why and how she stopped:

When I was a freshman in high school, my parents found out about my cutting. My mom went rifling through my journals and came across a series of long ranting hate-filled and simultaneously depressed entries. She immediately showed my dad who could barely even talk to me about it. He asked again and again if I wanted to see a therapist, if I needed to talk to someone. I was mortified and did everything in my power to quell their fears and stop him from calling for help.
Gradually, my friends found out too. One day will be forever imprinted in my mind. I was in class and sitting next to my close friend (this was me). She got excited over something and grabbed my arm where I had just the night before cut a long slice. I flinched, and yanked my arm away from her. She gave me a knowing look and as soon as we got out of class and away from prying eyes, she pulled my sleeve up to see. After that day she never stopped encouraging me to quit.
Once things in life started to get better, I learned how to control my urges to cut (for the most part), and tried to help my other friends stop as well.

As you can see from my friend’s story she didn’t cut because she wanted to commit suicide, a common misconception for why people self-injure, she did it because she didn’t know how to deal with her emotions and deal with the stress. I’ve talked to her and she would have done group therapy sessions with me, I would have done group therapy sessions had there been a program in place to help us. We only have therapists though which we couldn’t afford. Karen Conterio’s program offers many types of therapy and most of them are covered by insurance. There is a need for a program on the west coast and Karen Conterio could be responsible for it.

Signs of Self-Injury

People who self-injure are typically very private about it. They will try to cover up their whatever they do and hide it from others. Most self-injurers are good at covering up their injuries. These are signs that you can look for if you suspect someone you know is self-injuring.

  • Cuts, bruises, and wounds that are unexplainable.
  • Covering up year round over the harmed areas. Including but not limited to: wearing long sleeves, pants, bracelets, wristbands, watches.
  • Not wanting to join activities in which the skin must be exposed.
  • Too much alone time.
  • Bloodstains on carpets, clothes or paper products.
  • Sharp objects hidden among possessions.
  • Withdrawing from socializing.
  • Problems communicating emotional states.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Constant accidents in which an exposed injury “occurred.”

Sources: Family Circle Magazine “Cutting: Why Teens Hurt Themselves” by  Jeannette Moninger, June 6, 2011

 

Why Would Someone Self-injure?

First of we must define self-injury. Self-injury is when someone intentionally injures part of their body. Self-injury comes in many forms: cutting, burning, scratching, interfering with healing, hitting, biting, picking at the skin, hair-pulling, head bashing, bone-breaking, embedding things into the skin, consuming poisonous materials, etc.

People may ask why would anyone purposefully injure themselves. Those who have studied the behavior says that 15%-22% of young people have intentionally harmed themselves at least once. It’s generally assumed that most people self-injure to gain attention, however this is not the case. Many people use self-injury as a way to cope with their lives and cutting is a sense of release of those feelings they try to cope with. Most people who self harm are not suicidal, most are just looking for a release from their emotions. I have said that two of my friends and I used to self-injure, none of us were ever suicidal.

It is most commonly reported that people who self-injure do so to try to handle their emotions. It helps them to not focus on emotional pain and gives a sense of calm to the self-injurer. It also allows for the self-injurer to gain a sense of control when they feel like they do not have any. It provides a way for them to express things that they cannot form into a cohesive thought. A self-injurer can also be under a lot of stress and find comfort in self-injury. For others its insecurity that makes them self-injure. Self-injury can also occur if the person has suffered some sort of abuse as a child. A person may self-injure to just feel something if they feel numb to the world. Some people do self-injure to get attention, but from my research this does not seem like the main reason, yet people think it is.

There are many reasons why someone would self-injure. It gets played up as people looking for attention when most of the time it’s not. The misconception needs to be broken and the many different reasons why someone would self-injure need to be understood.

Sources:

  • Self Magazine “It’s Self-Injury Awareness Day: What You Need to Know” by Jenny Everet March 1, 2011
  • Los Angeles Times “Self-injury on the rise among young people” by  Shari Roan December 8 2008