Self-Harm Awareness Month
Supporting people in our lives who desire to harm one’s self. For readers who do not know what self-harm is, according to the Jed Foundation, “Self-injurious behavior or self-harm is as it sounds; intentionally doing harm to oneself. Unlike suicide attempts, self-harming behaviors are not driven by a desire to end one’s life. However, some self-injurious behaviors may be life-threatening. Common self-harm includes cutting, burning, hitting, head-banging and hair-pulling. Although self-harm may occur on any part of the body, it is most common on the hands, wrists, stomach and thighs. Self-injury usually develops as an attempt to cope with emotional distress, and some people cut themselves when they feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety or emotional numbness. This behavior is also sometimes used as a form of self-punishment, and a way to outwardly express inner pain.”
For some, this can be tough to read and believe. As a provider who has worked in mental health for over 13 years, people who act on self-harm are people just like you and me who desire to be loved, cared for, noticed, and appreciated. Here are some strategies I recommend to clients who desire to self-harm and ways supporters can care for people in their life who desire or act on self-harm:
Find a distraction that engages one or two of your five senses like: listening to music while smelling herbal tea, having a warm beverage while standing and/or looking outside, or wearing a warm/weighted article of clothing while watching something funny.
Prepare in advance by putting a frozen orange/clementine in your freezer - when you desire to act on self-harm, get the frozen fruit out of the freezer and put it on the part of your body that you wish you self-harm. When you feel better and the fruit thaws, you can eat it too.
Call/text/video-chat with a support who you trust and/or knows about your experiences with self-harm.
Get some art supplies and make something. Markers can be a good resource where you can draw and make something that channels the same energy you might use in self-harm and when finished either journal your feelings about the art or throw away the art as a way to gain control/mastery over the previous desire to self-harm.
Contact the crisis hotline at the end of this post if you don’t have access to supports or self-care practices.
Be available to people in your life who desire to self-harm by:
Being available when they reach out for support.
Acknowledging their feelings and why they want to self-harm while listening to their feelings/needs and strategizing ways to get those needs met without acting on self-harm.
Have a crisis hotline available such as from the Jed Foundation: Text "START" to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Lou Lim, LMHC, REAT is a licensed mental health counselor and registered expressive arts therapist (REAT) with a master's degree in Expressive Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University. He is a member of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association and on the committee for REAT credentialing. He has 13 years of experience in counseling and expressive therapy working with children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and retirees.
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