Trigger Warning: There are multiple references to self-injurious behaviours throughout this blog, which some people might find disturbing. If you need support, contact your GP or in a crisis, call 999 or The Samaritans at 116 123.
What is self-injury?
Self-injury refers to any behaviour intended to cause harm or pain to the self. Self-injury is not a mental health condition, but a common symptom of a range of mental illnesses. Despite stereotypes and common misconceptions, self-injury is very rarely done for attention, as a ‘cry for help’, or to fit in with others; self-injury is commonly a hidden behaviour. Being visible it doesn’t sit easily with us, hence why there’s stigma around it.
The reasons for self-harm can vary between individuals, but common functions can include releasing difficult emotions, or to ground, distract, or punish oneself. Self-injury habits can function in the same way as addiction, making it very difficult to ‘just stop’. Self-harm can be the only way for some people to deal with their distress; however, it is possible to replace this maladaptive coping strategy with adaptive, healthy coping skills.
separating yourself from the situation where you may hurt yourself. ‘O’ is for observe where the user is encouraged to be mindful of their emotions and thoughts. Finally, ‘P’ is for proceed mindfully. Using your awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and goals, consider carefully how you would like to proceed.
Like with addiction, self-harm urges tend to follow a pattern. Urges tend to build gradually, before peaking, then fading away. Considering these urges as a ‘wave’ that will fade can better prepare us to ride them out. This means accepting the associated distress and temptation of the urge but knowing that this does not mean that the urge has to be followed. Each time someone ‘surfs’ over the urge and does not engage in self-harm behaviours, it becomes easier. Like with quitting smoking or anything addictive, we gain power each time we are able to tolerate the distress of the urge without giving in to it. Over time, the urges should become less powerful and distressing and should be easier to ignore.
TIPP is another skill taught in DBT. The ‘T’ is for temperature: try using an ice pack to self-soothe. Reducing body temperature can make you feel calmer and more in control, and function as a grounding technique in a similar way to self-harm. The ‘I’ is for intense exercise. This can help to work off the excess adrenaline that causes uncomfortable symptoms and distract from the urge. The ‘P’s are for paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation. These exercises both work to counteract the effects of adrenaline on the body, which can make you feel agitated, restless, and on edge.
Take Away Message
Although these techniques can be helpful in managing urges to self-injure, it is vital to seek help for any self-harm difficulties. Recovery is possible and always easier with appropriate professional support.
Our guest blogger:
Huge thanks to our Ambassador and Assistant psychologist Lucy for writing this informative blog. We’re hoping that it helps dispel some of the myth around self-injury.
Help and Support
Talk to your GP or medical professional if you are struggling with self-injurious ideation or behaviours. In a crisis, visit A&E, call 999, or call The Samaritans on 116 123. Visit Dorset Mind’s help and support pages for resources, signposting, and information about their individual and group mental health services at https://dorsetmind.uk/help-and-support
Harmless – user led support and information.
NSHN (National Self-Harm Network) – moderated online forum.
SelfharmUK – supports young people
Dorset Connection 24/7 Helpline: 0800 652 0190