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Two Paths, One Journey


Self-harm is a behavior rooted in complexity and often misunderstood or judged by society. Individuals who engage in self-harm often use it as a coping mechanism to manage overwhelming emotions or to regain a sense of control. It is important to emphasize that self-harm is not a direct expression of a desire to end one's life, but rather a way to cope with emotional turmoil. In this blog post, we will address an important topic that often leads to confusion and misunderstanding: self-harm. It is crucial to recognize that self-harm is not synonymous with suicidal thinking or intent. While both involve distress and emotional pain, they are distinct experiences that require separate understanding and support. By gaining a deeper understanding, we can dispel misconceptions, reduce stigma, and provide appropriate support to those who are struggling.



Finding Relief in Pain


Self-harm became my coping mechanism in the face of intense emotional pain. To distract myself from consuming negative thoughts, I turned to cutting and burning. Contrary to prevalent misconceptions, self-harm was not a sign of weakness or attention-seeking. For me, it was a desperate attempt to regain control and find temporary relief from indescribable emotions.


My self-harm was deeply intertwined with my emotional struggles, providing an external outlet for the pain I felt inside. When emotions became overwhelming, self-harm offered a tangible release. While not a healthy long-term solution, it seemed like the only way to cope in those moments.


Using self-harm as a coping mechanism allowed me to manage the intensity of emotional pain. Cutting and burning became visible and tangible outlets for overwhelming emotions that seemed unmanageable at the time. It was essential to recognize that self-harm was not indicative of weakness or attention-seeking, but rather a desperate attempt to regain control or temporarily alleviate emotional distress.


Self-harm served as a way for me to navigate through overwhelming emotions and regain a semblance of control in my life. In moments of emotional intensity or powerlessness, it provided a temporary escape or a means to release pent-up feelings. The physical pain resulting from self-harm often acted as a distraction from emotional pain, offering fleeting respite from distress.


The emotional pain underlying my self-harm originated from various sources, and self-harm served as an external manifestation of that internal turmoil. It was vital to acknowledge that self-harm was not a healthy or sustainable solution for managing emotional pain. While it provided temporary relief, it failed to address the root causes of my distress. It became necessary to explore alternative coping strategies and seek professional help to address the underlying emotional struggles.


During times of emotional chaos or when I felt powerless, self-harm provided a distorted sense of control. Inflicting pain upon myself created a temporary illusion of mastery over my body and emotions. It offered a fleeting sense of empowerment in moments that felt overwhelming and uncontrollable.


I often battled emotional numbness or dissociation, and self-harm helped me reconnect with my emotions. By evoking physical sensations, it allowed me to feel something tangible and validated my existence. It became a means to regain a sense of presence in my own body.


Understanding the underlying reasons behind self-harm is crucial for others to approach individuals with compassion and empathy. It is important to realize that self-harm is not a reflection of weakness or a cry for attention. Instead, it is a manifestation of deep emotional pain that should never be dismissed or trivialized. By fostering understanding and support, we can create an environment that promotes healing and recovery.



Exploring the Motivations


Self-harm, though often misunderstood, is a complex and deeply personal response to emotional distress. It can serve as a way to manage overwhelming emotions, find temporary relief, or regain a sense of control in their lives. While the specific methods of self-harm can vary widely, the underlying motivation often stems from an internal struggle that is difficult to express or articulate. By exploring the reasons behind self-harm, we can develop a deeper understanding of this behavior and approach those who engage in it with compassion and empathy.


Cutting, for example, involves intentionally causing superficial or deep wounds on the body using sharp objects. Skin carving refers to the act of etching designs or patterns onto the skin, while extreme scratching involves forcefully scratching the skin to the point of breaking the surface. Burning can involve using heated objects or flames to inflict pain on the skin. Punching or hitting walls may be an outlet for releasing pent-up frustration and anger. Ingesting toxic substances or interfering with wound healing can also be forms of self-harm, albeit less visible.


Coping with Overwhelming Emotions: For some individuals, self-harm becomes a way to escape or release overwhelming emotions that feel too difficult to handle. By inflicting physical pain upon themselves, they create a temporary distraction from the emotional pain, offering a brief respite from distress.


Expression of Unspoken Feelings: When individuals struggle to convey their emotions verbally, self-harm can act as a form of communication. By leaving visible marks on their bodies, they hope to convey the depth of their pain, distress, or the need for help when words fail them. It becomes a way to express unspoken feelings that are otherwise difficult to articulate.


Sense of Control in Chaos: During moments of emotional chaos or when feeling powerless, self-harm provides a distorted sense of control. By engaging in self-inflicted pain, individuals create an illusion of being in charge of their bodies and emotions. This brief sense of empowerment can be enticing in situations that feel overwhelming and uncontrollable.


Release of Emotional Numbness: Some individuals who self-harm struggle with emotional numbness or dissociation. The act of self-harm evokes physical sensations that allow them to reconnect with their emotions, providing something tangible to feel. It becomes a way to validate their existence and regain a sense of being present in their bodies.


Understanding self-harm as a coping mechanism is crucial for approaching individuals who engage in this behavior with compassion and empathy. It is essential to recognize that self-harm is a manifestation of deep emotional pain and should never be dismissed or trivialized.




Debunking Myths


Among the general population of individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), approximately 35% to 40% also report some level of suicidal thoughts. In clinical populations consisting of individuals with multiple diagnosed mental illnesses, this percentage rises to 65% or more. Suicidal thoughts are commonly present during or after periods of NSSI, but in around 20% of cases, they precede self-injury.


It is important to emphasize that although a connection exists between NSSI and suicidal behavior, more than half of those who engage in NSSI in average youth and young adult populations do not report any suicidal thoughts or behaviors.


Is there a correlation between NSSI and suicidal thoughts and behaviors?


Despite differing intentions behind NSSI and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, it is crucial to acknowledge that they share common risk factors, including but not limited to:


  • History of trauma, abuse, or chronic stress

  • Heightened emotional sensitivity and perception

  • Limited effective mechanisms for managing emotional stress

  • Feelings of isolation (even among individuals who appear to have numerous friends or connections)

  • Previous alcohol or substance abuse

  • Presence of depression or anxiety

  • Feelings of worthlessness


Due to these and other risk factors, the presence of self-injury in itself serves as a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.



Challenging Misconceptions


Self-injury and suicidal behaviors share certain similarities that can lead to confusion. Both involve intentional harm to oneself, and they can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones. The physical manifestations of these behaviors may appear similar, making it challenging to discern between them at first glance. However, it is crucial to understand that the intention and underlying motivations behind self-injury and suicidal behaviors differ significantly.


A Desperate Escape from Overwhelming Anguish: Suicidal individuals endure profound emotional distress resulting from intense life pressures or mental health disorders. They view suicide as a means to alleviate their overwhelming agony. Suicide attempts often arise from feelings of desolation, hopelessness, and a diminished sense of self-worth.


A Coping Mechanism to Manage Emotions and Stress: It is important to recognize that self-harm itself is not a direct precursor to suicide. Although there may be instances where individuals who self-harm later contemplate or commit suicide, the act of self-harm primarily serves as a coping mechanism. Individuals who engage in self-harm often find a sense of reassurance in the physical pain they inflict, especially when experiencing emotional numbness or detachment from the world.


The Role of Pain and the Brain's Response: The act of self-harm activates pain receptors within the body, leading to a surge of adrenaline in the brain. This surge has the potential to create a sense of addiction and presents significant risks. It is essential to comprehend these intricate physical and psychological processes in order to offer effective assistance and intervention. Participating in self-harm can temporarily provide emotional and mental relief for individuals. Nevertheless, this relief is typically short-lived and followed by feelings of shame and guilt, perpetuating a negative emotional pattern. The repetitive nature of self-harm establishes a perilous routine, requiring intervention and support to break away from this destructive cycle.


Clarifying Misconceptions: It is essential to debunk the misconception that self-harm inevitably leads to suicide. While some individuals who self-harm may later contemplate or commit suicide, self-harm itself is not a direct precursor to suicide. Self-harm serves as a coping mechanism, enabling individuals to manage their emotions, whereas suicide represents a deliberate attempt to end one's life due to immense suffering.


Distinguishing between suicide and self-harm is crucial for promoting understanding and providing appropriate support to individuals facing mental health challenges. Recognizing the contrasting motives behind these behaviors enables us to tailor interventions and resources effectively.




Helping Hands


Have you ever noticed a friend or family member who frequently has bruises or wears bandages? Sometimes, they may even wear long sleeves and pants in hot weather to hide cuts or scars. If you suspect someone you know might be self-harming, here's what you can do (and what you should avoid):


Ask the person how they're doing. Be prepared to listen, even if the topic makes you uncomfortable. It can be challenging to understand, but one of the best things you can do is let them know that you may not fully comprehend their struggle, but you're there to support them.


  • Validate their feelings, even if you don't fully understand or agree. Acknowledge their pain by saying something like, "It sounds like you're going through a tough time." Remember, the pain they're experiencing is real to them, even if it doesn't make sense to you.


  • Avoid making jokes or trying to downplay the seriousness of self-harm. It's crucial for the person to feel that their pain is taken seriously and that they're not alone.


  • Gently encourage them to seek appropriate therapy by letting them know that self-harm is not uncommon, and doctors and therapists can provide help. If possible, offer to assist them in finding treatment


  • Try not to ask them to promise to stop self-harming. Breaking the habit of self-harm is extremely difficult since it offers both physical and mental relief. It requires more than just willpower to stop. Professional therapists who specialize in self-harm can provide the necessary support and guidance.


In summary, when it comes to discussing self-harm, approaching the topic with sensitivity and empathy is crucial. It is important to recognize that self-harm is a maladaptive coping mechanism that indicates underlying pain and distress. By creating a safe and non-judgmental environment, we can offer the necessary support and resources for individuals to develop healthier coping strategies.


Discovering that someone you care about is engaging in self-harm can be a challenging and distressing experience. Handling this situation with compassion and understanding is essential. Rather than expressing shock or disappointment, it is important to provide empathy, empowerment, and assistance in finding healthier ways to cope. Creating an open line of communication allows them to share their feelings and explore alternative methods of managing their emotions.


Throughout the healing journey, respecting the individual's autonomy and being vigilant for subtle signs are important. Encouraging them to seek professional help and offering support in finding suitable resources can make a significant difference. Remember, if someone you love is resorting to self-harm, they need the extra support and guidance that mental health professionals can provide.


By approaching self-harm discussions sensitively and empathetically, we can foster an environment where individuals feel understood, supported, and empowered to pursue healing and recovery.



From Self-Harm to Self-Care


Therapy and professional help were integral to my healing journey. They provided a safe and supportive environment where I could explore and address the underlying issues that led to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. With the guidance and expertise of mental health professionals, I received invaluable support and learned effective coping mechanisms to manage my emotions.


Through therapy and self-reflection, I discovered healthier ways of coping and found alternatives to self-harm. This process involved trial and error, as I experimented with different strategies to determine what worked best for me. Mindfulness exercises, engaging in creative outlets, practicing self-care, and establishing a strong support network all played significant roles in my recovery.


By actively building these coping strategies and embracing healthy alternatives, I not only gained a sense of control but also found hope in my life. This journey of self-discovery and growth empowered me to overcome the challenges I faced and move towards a healthier and more fulfilling future.




"Thorns make you stronger, and the beauty of the rose is worth the pricks along the way"

 

Join me as we embark on a path of resilience, self-discovery, and transformation. Connect with me today to book a public speech that will allow your audience to witness the strength that arises from vulnerability and the beauty that can flourish when we choose to embrace our authentic selves.

The Vintage Rose is a testament to the unyielding spirit within each of us—an invitation to bloom despite the shadows that may have once defined us. Let us celebrate our individuality, celebrate our journeys, and create a world that embraces the inherent strength and resilience within us all. Thank you for joining me on this empowering journey. Together, we can rewrite the narrative surrounding mental health and inspire others to embark on their own path of healing.


Remember, our past does not dictate our future. We are survivors, we are resilient, and we are ready to create change. Welcome to The Vintage Rose, where authenticity, courage, and healing intertwine to form a beautiful tapestry of recovery.

 

Amy Thompson, MSW, CAPSW, CPS is the owner and designer of the The Vintage Rose Co. She has a Master’s in Social Work, is a Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker, a Certified Dual Peer Specialist, a Social/Emotional Interventionist, an Inspirational Speaker, and a suicide survivor. Amy has walked the path of recovery from her mental health struggles to alcohol and drug addiction. She has confronted the challenges of living with Anorexia, OCD, anxiety, and depression, and as time went on, she received additional diagnoses of ADHD and PTSD. She now dedicates herself to providing support and advocacy for others on their own journey.




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