I write this to give a voice to those who are depressed, distraught, alone. Those who may think of or be involved in harming themselves. I want to raise this voice because I was once there. My mind was once a much darker place than it is now.
I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a while, and I wanted to contribute to the awareness and support brought by Suicide Prevention Day. This article is primarily for the awareness of people who don’t know what it’s like, who want to understand. I know that self-harm is an issue that can be so difficult for people on the outside to understand. And I am honestly grateful that you don’t have to understand from experience. But if you’re here reading this, there are people in your life that you want to be able to help and have more compassion for. This is why I wanted to explain, from my perspective, why people become entrapped in self-harm.
DISCLAIMER: This article is NOT primarily for people who are currently struggling with self-harm. I say this because I know how easily I was triggered in the past by reading things that I thought would be helpful.
My best suggestion would be to show this article to friends and family rather than read it yourself if you feel there is any chance you could be triggered. Or read it alongside someone so that it can start open conversation, rather than cause negative thoughts while you are alone. I would much rather you stay safe than risk it.
When explaining to people why self-harm is a struggle for many who are depressed, I usually start by explaining this basic premise. Self-harm is an escape from any kind of emotional pain. When the emotional pain becomes too torturous, physical pain is highly preferable.
Self-harm is an escape from any kind of emotional pain. When the emotional pain becomes too torturous, physical pain is highly preferable.
Within this basic premise, there are so many reasons why people self-harm. Those of us who have struggled with an overwhelming sense of shame bought the lie that we deserve it. It visually represents the disgusting self, and inflicts the pain we “should” feel to make up for the shame that we are.
It is a visual representation of the pain that is felt. Pain from loneliness, pain from abuse, pain from the severity of life’s struggles, pain from a straightforward chemical imbalance. This internal pain is rarely seen, recognized, or heard. So we fell into a trap of externalizing it in the way that feels most safe. Most personal. No one will know, no one can judge. The pain cannot stay inside without threatening your life.
This internal pain is rarely seen, recognized, or heard.
Self-harm is a validation that our pain is real, when so many people unfortunately have misunderstood it. Whether someone purposefully reveals their scars, or they are the only person who sees them, it is a way that the pain is expressed and seen.
Self-harm is addictive. Like I said, it is a replacement for emotional pain. There is a chemical reaction that happens in the body that releases endorphins when someone hurts themselves. This relieves the emotional pain, even if it is just temporary, and replaces it with an ache, a sharp pain, a scar. This chemical reaction in the body is actually addictive. It is a behavioral pattern that is formed that the brain will continue to urge you towards when emotions are too high. This is why so many people have a hard time stopping.
When I first tried self-harm, about 7 years ago, I felt instant relief. The darkness engulfing me released its grip, though only momentarily. It was my choice, and I thought I was only hurting myself. I didn’t know that the dangerous relief I had chosen would entangle me in more darkness and break the hearts of my family and friends. It took me two years to let it go. It was a painful cycle of success, failure, success, and more failure. Thanks to the healing God has allowed in my life, it’s now been nearly 5 years since I self-harmed.
Honestly, it is crazy to see how my brain and my body can still urge me towards destructive patterns at times. Now, it is much easier to channel that need for release into something such as exercise. But it took a lot of time and effort and people to be where I am now. Pursuing deep internal healing is not simple or easy.
Hopefully I’ve helped you in some way to understand this struggle more clearly. If you know someone who is self-harming, be there with them. You may feel like you can’t fix anything, but listening and showing up are the most powerful ways you can support them.
If you are struggling- you are not alone, no matter how isolated you feel. There will always be hope, and we can choose to seek it out, over and over again, no matter how scary it is. It is always worth it. You are worth it.
In Christ’s Love,