I have written this post in answer to the question I was asked of why do I self-harm and what purpose does it serve. In my opinion it definitely serves an important purpose and it is not a “cry for help” or to get attention as stereotypes hold. It’s a coping strategy – a harmful, or “maladaptive” one, but it’s a strategy.
It’s necessary. It’s the only way to carry on. It’s a compulsion, a need, and a blessed release.
It can be almost grounding. When the voices are screaming, the guilt is exploding in me, I am crushed by anger and fear and disgust at myself and running out of breath – I know what those cuts will feel like. It’s the same every time. It’s release. I know exactly what will happen no matter what a mess everything is. I get the scissors or the razor and I know what I must do and I know what I will see as I scratch and bleed and I know what I will feel, the familiar sting, redness, throbbing. I know what that is. There it is before me and it can’t be doubted.
It’s better pain than what’s in my head and it stops the noise and hurt and racing thoughts and voices and rising anger and crushing terror and revulsion that wants to tear at my skin to get away all the bad that I know is inside me.
I can be sure that I’ve hurt myself. There it is, I can see it. It’s not good enough. I’m very weak. I need to do it more and more. But it’s something. It’s some way I can be sure I hurt myself, so I won’t hurt someone else. So I’m not such a danger to everyone else. Not so disgusting.
Sometimes it’s so that I can continue with the day.
It shuts off, for a few minutes, the frightening memory, the frightening emotion or the disgusting thoughts. Especially violent anger or the sadness that blacks everything else out and hides everything good. It literally cuts through it, a little bit, fights the way upwards.
It can end some of the dangerous dissociations where I lose time, forget things, make irrational decisions, disappear from reality into my safe escape worlds.
Perhaps sleep will come afterwards.
Perhaps numbness or quiet will come afterwards and it’s a little bit of a way to get a break.
People say it’s a cry for help. It’s not. It’s not something I threaten to do to get my own way or pressure people. It’s secret. It is the help. It is the way to keep going. If I couldn’t do it, I’d have had to die a long time ago. I’d have given in and (though it’s against every single one of my personal religious and moral beliefs when I’m in my rational mind) the darkness would have consumed everything and I’d have had to do it. I hide it from everyone, make sure I do it where they can’t see, and I very reluctantly tell my therapist about it. One of my friends says call her when I feel I’m going to do it, she’d want to know. I could never do that – I would not want to put her in the position of feeling she must stop me.
I don’t think I do it very “badly” – several people in one of my therapy groups have far worse self-harm scars than I do. It’s nothing really, it’s no danger. But it is a way to cope.
“…My dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds. The hammer pounds again, but flames I do not feel, this force that drives me helplessly through flesh and wood reveals a burn that burns much deeper, it’s more than I can stand…”
(This and the title quote are from Bebo Norman’s The Hammer Holds. For some reason this song always makes me think of how I feel when I self-harm. I know this is not anything to do with the original meaning of the song and Bebo Norman is not making this reference at all (it’s a Christian song telling the story of the Crucifixion). Yet some of the lines express how I feel when I cut. It’s a way to bear the pain; it’s something I wish did not have to be but is absolutely needed and drives me on, it’s the only way to live at the moment. )