Self-Harm

Young women's version of this guide
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Your teen years can be the most complicated phase of your life. Some of the challenges include harder school work, changes in relationships, and changes in your body. Sometimes it can be hard to handle the feelings that come with these changes. Some guys have a harder time balancing out their feelings and may turn to harmful activities such as drinking, using drugs, or self-harming. This guide was created to help you understand self-harm and how you can get help for yourself or a friend.

What is self-harm?

When you hurt your body on purpose it is called “self-harm”. Other names for self-harm are “cutting”, “self-injury”, or “self-mutilation”. Some ways that people hurt themselves are by cutting, scratching, hitting, or burning their bodies. Other ways people injure themselves include engaging in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs, which may lead to an overdose or trip to the hospital.

People who self-harm sometimes hurt themselves repeatedly, and may have scars. While you’re self-harming you might not feel pain, and might do more damage than you mean to.

Why do people self-harm?

People who injure themselves are often experiencing overwhelming feelings, such as extreme anxiety or tension, and in the moment self-harm may seem to provide a feeling of escape or relief. Some people also experience “depersonalization”, which is when a person doesn’t feel “real”, or feels like he’s outside of his body watching himself. People who feel this way might cut or harm themselves to help themselves to feel “real” again. Others cut or injure themselves as a way of punishing themselves or others close to them. Sometimes people who self-harm have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and have a sense of shame about themselves.

Most people who self-harm haven’t yet learned healthier ways to cope with negative feelings. Even if you feel stuck in a pattern of injuring yourself, there’s definitely a way out.

Is self-harm the same as being suicidal?

No, but sometimes injuries can be severe enough to cause death, and sometimes people who self-harm may become suicidal.

If you, or someone you know is feeling suicidal you should get professional help immediately. Tell a parent, an adult you trust, or someone who can help right away. If you can’t get someone to help you or don’t know what to do, call 911 or go to the closest hospital emergency room.

What should I do if I self-harm?

It’s very important to ask for help if you or someone you know self-harm. Talk to an adult you trust such as a parent, relative, guidance counselor, or your health care provider. Friends can be very supportive, but it is important that you tell an adult too.

When you talk to a trusted adult, tell them you have been self-harming, and that you want to stop. Ask them for support, and ask them to help you find resources and make a plan for stopping.

If you have a cut that’s infected or that won’t stop bleeding, you need to get first aid right away.

Can I stop hurting myself?

Yes, you can stop. Stopping self-harm can be like quitting abusing drugs or alcohol. It’s challenging, but with support, resources, and a good plan, you can do it! You can learn healthier ways to handle your intense feelings, and you can learn to take good care of yourself.

Deciding to stop self-harming is a decision that you will have to make for yourself, but it’s a lot easier with the support of family, friends, and a health care provider. The first thing you should know is that you’re a good person, and that your body and mind deserve good care. You may not have heard that very often in your life, but it’s important to know this basic truth about yourself. Knowing this can inspire you to learn healthier ways of coping with stress.

How do I stop hurting myself in the moment?

It’s important to find ways to calm or focus yourself when you feel like self-harming. Make a list of non-harmful things that help you feel relaxed and real, such as playing a sport, listening to music, drawing, or reading. Keep this list where you can see it so when you feel like hurting yourself you’ll have other options and you can choose to do something else.

Here are some ways to use up nervous energy:

  • Go for a long walk or run
  • Shoot hoops or kick a ball around
  • Go jogging or lift weights
  • Squeeze a stress ball

Here are some ways to relax and de-stress:

  • Take a hot shower
  • Listen to music
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to a friend
  • Read a good book

Many guys find that keeping busy and spending time with good friends and family helps the most.

How can I recover from self-harm?

Self-harm is a symptom of deeper emotional pain. Getting counseling or therapy will help you better understand your feelings and your life situation. A counselor or therapist can help you figure out why you hurt yourself, what situations put you at risk, and what steps you can take to learn healthier ways to deal with intense emotions. A therapist can can also help with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Sometimes a health care provider may recommend medication as part of your overall plan for recovering from self-injury.

Making the decision to stop self-harming is a big first step. Remember that learning healthier ways to handle intense feelings will take time. The key to recovering is to get support from people who care about you, and treatment from a therapist or counselor. You deserve this change, so keep working on it, and remember, you are not alone in your recovery.

How can I help a friend who self-harms?

If you have a friend who self-harms, there are steps you can take to help them stop and help them recover.
First, suggest to your friend that they talk to an adult they trust, like a parent, school counselor, or their health care provider. Second, support your friend by listening to them, and letting them know you care about them. Lastly, print out this guide, or some other information on self-harm, and give it to them. They can read it when they feel ready.

If your friend won’t talk to an adult and refuses help, you should find a trusted adult who knows your friend, and talk to that person. Tell an adult even if your friend asked you to keep their self-harm a secret. Your friend might get angry at you, but in this situation, it’s more important to get help. Self-harm is very serious and can be deadly, and your friend’s safety is more important than privacy right now. Your friend might be mad at you for a while, but you can apologize and talk about it later, after you know they’re safe.

If you’re concerned about hurting yourself, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: “Sometimes when I’m really stressed I hurt myself to feel better.”
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