Please be advised that this article is focused around the discussion of self-harm and the factors surrounding it.
The desire to hurt yourself is something that I've noticed often times seems hard to comprehend for those that have never experienced it. It doesn't make any logical sense to some people, and they can't quite grasp the concept of what joy or satisfaction can be derived from it.
While I absolutely do not advocate for the practice of self-harming, I would like to explain the reasoning behind why people do it. For years, I cut myself as a method of coping with my own depression and anxiety. Often times when I recount my experiences to others, they find it hard to understand why I got into the habit of self-harming to begin with or why anyone would continue to do something that seemingly has no benefit to them. My hope is that through sharing my experiences, I can answer the question of what is going through the mind of someone that self-harms, as it is imperative to first understand the very nature of an issue before anything can be done to help it.
Let me just start by saying that everything expressed in this article is through the lens of my own experiences with self-harming. This article reflects my own emotions, views, and thoughts. It is in no way representative of everyone that has ever self-harmed. I have however noticed, through talking with several others throughout the years, that my own experiences are very similar to that of the majority of others who have self-harmed in the past.
First off, contrary to the beliefs of some more close-minded individuals, I didn't do it for attention.
Not in the slightest. Nobody knew I did until years after the fact, and I would make a deliberate effort to cut only in places that were not often exposed or easily visible. To think that anyone that cuts is just seeking attention is extremely ignorant and counterproductive to understanding the problem. No amount of attention in the world would have made me stop.
At the time, it made me feel euphoric. Of course, like everyone else that self-harms, I knew the entire time that it wasn't healthy. It didn't matter though, it actually made me feel good for once. It was a combination of several factors, really. It was a way to resume control over myself. My thoughts, my anxiety, my irrational worries, and that goddamn unscratchable depression-fueled itch to end my life were all completely out of my control.
No matter what I did, despite my several desperate attempts, I couldn't rein them in or stop them. This was something I could control, something I could decide to start and decide to stop whenever I pleased. It was a feeling I could control, even if that feeling was pain. It was taking control of myself again.
The sensation of actually feeling something again, after only feeling emotionally numb for as long as I can remember, is something I couldn't begin to explain. I had given up on any form of joy or any feelings of jubilation a long time before I started cutting. Nothing excited me anymore, nothing could put a genuine smile on my face. I had become a master of sculpting my own mouth into a happy little mask, but I could never wear a genuine grin.
The closest I ever came to elation was the feeling immediately after I cut. It's that adrenaline rush, that fight or flight reaction that your body starts the second the skin stops tearing. That, coupled with the juxtaposing feelings of the pain during the actual act and the feeling immediately after, was pure ecstasy. Of course, the release from pain always feels better than the pain itself. It gives the illusion of an actual good feeling. It was the closest thing I could get to a good feeling at the time.
That adrenaline rush that accompanies the fight or flight response becomes addictive after a while. You start to crave it and use it more and more until it becomes the only method you rely on to help you cope. I felt like nothing else could work as well, and though I would try deep breathing, meditation, and all sorts of other self-help techniques, nothing else seemed to work quite as well.
The decision to stop cutting was a conscious effort that I had to make. I had to constantly remind myself that no matter how bad things got, I would get through them without the help of the temporary relief self-harming supplied. I craved it, but wouldn't let myself cave in. I started seeking professional help, speaking with a therapist, and taking various medications for depression and anxiety until I found a mix that worked for me.
Eventually, my feelings were lessened thanks to the medication and therapy, and the healthy methods for coping that I learned throughout the years became more than enough for me. I realized I needed help, and I got it. Even still, I'd be lying if I said it isn't a thought that goes through my head every time I start to get anxious or upset again even now. That underlying craving to immediately feel good, to feel something other than anxious or sad for an instant, is always there.
It is just something I've learned I don't need in my life. Something that is unhealthy and that I'm glad I stopped. I do understand why others continue to do it though, and I can empathize with them. Hopefully, if you know someone that self-harms, this article will give you a better insight into their mindset that may help you convince them that it is something they can live without, too.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm and are in need of help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-723-8255. They are available 24 hours a day and are here to help. You are not alone.