This is an uncomfortable topic for most folks, but it is very important not to shy away from it whether you struggle with cutting or self-harm yourself, or if know someone who does. There is a lot of stigma surrounding this topic, many myths, and the subject matter itself is difficult for many to discuss because of the fears surrounding blood and their perceived implications of cutting. It becomes much easier to talk about, and the stigma begins to fall away, when we can understand what is really going on.
Cutting is a coping mechanism. It is an effective method (if only in the short-term) of symptom management. I say that it is effective because it works, temporarily. If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t do it. In this way, self-harm is like drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or having any other kind of addiction. It soothes anxiety and is a strategy for dealing with uncomfortable emotions when the person has no other known method for doing so. It can be a distraction, a release, and a way of expressing feelings. The problem is, just like with any of the other addictions I mentioned, it’s efficacy diminishes over time and is replaced with more problems later. It doesn’t address the underlying pain, doesn’t heal the cause, and perpetuates the need for coping mechanisms.
What is needed is to get to the root of the problem and heal it. Self-harm is a symptom of a deeper issue, much like pain is a symptom of a broken ankle. If someone has a broken bone like this, it is pretty ineffective treatment to just shoot their ankle full of pain-killers and hope that that will make it better for the rest of their life. That is not an effective treatment at all, and the pain-killing will have to continue repeatedly. In order to be healed for the long-term, the bone must be set, casted, healed correctly over time, and some physical therapy may be needed to rebuild strength. The same is true with emotional issues. Symptom management may work for the short-term, but ultimately healing the core issue is what will make the symptom behavior, like cutting, unnecessary.
Some myths about self-harm:
- It is done to get attention. Most people actually cut in secret.
- People who cut are suicidal. Cutting is a coping mechanism. While there may be an increased risk for suicide among those who self-harm, it doesn’t automatically mean someone is suicidal at all.
- People who self-harm are “crazy” or “dangerous”. Labeling someone who copes with anxiety, depression, or emotional pain in this way does more harm than good. Many other people suffer from these things as well. Because someone uses self-harm as a way to cope does not mean they are crazy or dangerous.
There is so much more I could talk about on this subject, but I’ll wrap up here for today and write on it more another time. If you struggle with anxiety or depression and use self-harm to cope with it, or if you know someone who does, there is help available. We can work on healing the underlying cause and find more effective ways of dealing with difficult and overwhelming emotions. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk more about it.
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW