“I cut myself because you wouldn’t let me cry.
I cried because you wouldn’t let me speak.
I spoke because you wouldn’t let me shine.
I shone because I thought you loved me…”
Cutting is not a trend; it’s an addiction. It’s like screaming, but no one can hear. It is an everyday battle. It can best be defined as an act of violence (cutting, burning, etc.) that is done to oneself, by oneself, without the intent of suicide. Sometimes self-injury is called self-inflicted violence, self-harm, self-mutilation or cutting.
Self-harm is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger or frustration by injuring your own body by cutting, burning, biting, hair-pulling or starving. It is not meant as a suicide method. They want to feel better, not end it all. However, initial feelings of pleasure are soon replaced by guilt, shame, or the return of painful feelings afterwards.
It can feel to other people that these things are done calmly and deliberately – almost cynically. But we know that self-harms are usually in a state of high emotion, distress and unbearable inner turmoil—about 1 out of every 10 people self-harm.
Why do people self-harm?
Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. As counter-intuitive as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself makes you feel better. In fact, you may feel like you have no choice. Injuring yourself is the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.
Relief is short: The problem is that the comfort that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like slapping on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury. And it also creates its own problems.
It’s a secret: If you’re like most people who self-injure, you try to keep what you’re doing secret. Maybe you feel ashamed, or maybe you just think that no one would understand. But hiding who you are and what you feel is a heavy burden. Ultimately, secrecy and guilt affect your relationships with your friends and family members and how you feel about yourself. It can make you feel even more lonely, worthless, and trapped.
Unbearable inner turmoil: Many people who harm themselves are struggling with intolerable distress or difficult situations. A person will often battle with difficulties for some time before they self-harm. People who self-harm, may have feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection, self-hatred or confused sexuality. Through self-harm, they may try to cope with stress, numb emotional pain, feel a sense of control, cry out for help, or punish themselves for things they think they did wrong. Self-injury generally provides temporary relief to intense emotional pain.
You hold the power
“People say things
meant to rip you in half
but you hold power to not
turn their words into a knife
and cut yourself”?
There has been a sharp increase in people who self-harm in the past few years. It seems to have become a trend, a coping mechanism of the youth today. During a recent survey done by the Bureau of Youth Research at UNISA, secondary schools pupils in South Africa were asked if they know of someone who self-harms, and 70 -80% have indicated that they do know of someone who does. It also seems to be a predominantly teen thing. Reasons for self-harm are a chaotic home environment, sexual abuse and overuse of internet technology.
You may ask why internet technology? If you spend time texting or surfing or playing games on the internet, your brain releases pleasure chemicals (dopamine), which makes you feel good. Have you noticed how time flies when you do this? Have you noticed how a click on an app with a red icon sends a rush of excitement through you? You might discover an interesting email, an avalanche of “likes”, or nothing at all. Even swiping becomes addictive because it releases dopamine all the time. Research has shown people on average touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day. It was designed to hook you. The dopamine release is more than the usual amount released by, for example, eating when you are hungry. Most of the day, teens who are on their phones end up with dopamine being blocked in their brains because the brain tries to lower the release. Low levels of dopamine are associated with lethargy and chronic fatigue.
When you feel no pleasure anymore, because too little dopamine is released, it is called anhedonia. When kids start cutting, to try and feel something, another neurotransmitter is released – endorphin. The pain from cutting makes the brain sense injury and floods their system with endorphins, which acts as a natural pain reliever. It is not as powerful as dopamine and the high they get quickly dissipates. Then they have to cut again, and again, and again. Cutting eventually becomes more extreme, more profound, and they draw blood. Some cut all the way to the bone after a while to get the endorphin release. The top three reasons for digital anhedonia is watching pornography, playing social video games and internet surfing.
They are certain people who often self-harm, for example, teens, young women, prisoners, people who have been abused in any way, refugees, people who have experienced trauma (rape/war), people who are discriminated against (homosexuality/ albinism), and young people who self harm as a group.
What is the effect of self-harm?
For persons with emotional problems, self-injury affects cocaine and other drugs that release endorphins to create a feel-good feeling. Self-harm can become impulsive behaviour that is difficult to control or stop. You can get addicted to self-harm. An action that starts as an attempt to feel more in control can end up owning you.
The arms, legs, and front of the torso are self-injury targets because these areas can be easily reached and easily hidden under clothing. Persons who self-harm often use more than one method to injure themselves.
- cutting your body with sharp objects
- swallowing poison
- overdose on pills/drugs
- burning your skin
- skin picking or scratching
- banging your head / or limbs against a wall
- sticking objects in your body
- punch your self
- pulling out hair/ eyebrow hairs
- starving or binge eating
Injuries can be so bad that the person needs medical assistance, for example, misjudging a cut’s depth might require stitches.
- Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
- Bloodstains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues.
- Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, glass shards, or bottle caps, in the person’s belongings.
- Frequent “accidents.” Someone who self-harms may claim to be clumsy or have many mishaps, to explain away injuries.
- Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
- Need to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
- Isolation and irritability
- The relief is short-lived and is quickly followed by other feelings like shame and guilt. Meanwhile, it keeps you from learning more effective strategies for feeling better.
- Keeping the secret of self-harm is difficult and lonely. And it can have a detrimental effect on your relationships with friends and family members.
- You can hurt yourself badly, even if you don’t mean to. It’s easy to misjudge the depth of a cut or end up with an infected wound.
- You’re at risk for more significant problems down the line. If you don’t learn other ways to deal with emotional pain, you increase your risk of major depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
- Self-harm can become addictive. It may start as an impulse or something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming controls you. It often turns into a compulsive behaviour that seems impossible to stop.