I am in recovery for a self harm addiction. I am/was a cutter. I'm currently almost 3 years clean. I began cutting in 2000...which means, if you do the math, I've been suffering from this for 12 years. To me it's like being an alcoholic: You don't ever *really* get over it.
Why? Why do that? If you've never done it my explanation probably won't be enough for you. I'm sorry in advance.
It felt good.
Yep. That's the crux of it. I know how crazy that sounds, trust me. I felt totally crazy at the time.
I'll break it down. When you're in pain your body produces endorphins. These trigger a "feel good" feeling that helps you deal with the pain. People that self harm just try to harness that feeling. When I would get overwhelmed or upset I could hurt myself and flood my body with endorphins. It was like doing drugs.
At the same time I knew it would hurt later after the endorphins wore off; so it was a punishment as well. If I ate too much, triggered an argument, got a bad grade, etc... I used it as a way to remind myself of that until it healed.
There was a point in my life (I was 17) when I had over 50 cuts in various states of healing. Fifty. You read that right.
There was a lot of guilt that went with it. There still is some days. There is such a stigma attached to the behavior. It was a crazy cycle. Cut, feel guilty about it, guilt becomes overwhelming, cut to relieve that overwhelmed feeling, feel guilty...
What can you do if you know someone that self harms?
1) Don't freak out. This is the hardest one so I'm putting it FIRST. The last thing they need to hear when they've opened up to you is "YOU DO WHAT? WHY? HOW COULD YOU? YOU NEED HELP!!!" Trust me, they know it's not an okay behavior. They know that they need help. That's why they're trusting you with the information.
What's the "proper" reaction? "I'm here for you. Let's go and talk to someone together." or "How can I help you?" If you can't handle it then SAY SO. "I can't handle this but I'll help you find someone that can."
2) Don't make them promise not to do it again. My ex was bad about this. I said above that there is already a lot of guilt that goes along with the behavior. On the road to recovery there will be slips. Period. You should celebrate each DAY that they can stay clean. Celebrate when they make it a week. If they slip then say, "Hey, you made it a week. Let's start fresh and I bet you can make it 8 days next time." If you berate them because they "broke a promise" you are just adding to the guilt and can cause a setback.
3) Don't ignore it. If they told you or let you see (I was very careful about where I cut so no one would notice unless I wanted it) then it is a cry for help...not attention. Most self harmers are not suicidal. There is a difference between self harm and a suicide attempt. Someone that wants to kill themselves usually won't cut for months beforehand. Frankly, they just attempt it. I know that's hard to hear. It's hard to type.
4) Set up a check in process. Even if you just come up with a code you should find a way to check in with them each day. Make it easy. "How is today" and a "good/bad" response.
5) Don't take it on alone. Find someone that YOU can talk to as well. This isn't something that you should handle lightly and is, honestly, something for professionals to handle. After you establish trust you need to help the person find a trusted professional to help them and then you should talk to someone as well.
This was a lot longer than I thought it would be but I think it was necessary. Did I help you understand? If you have any questions let me know and I'll address them in another post.