An Attempt at Explaining Self-Harm

I am not justifying it as a good thing to do whatsoever, it is an unhealthy coping strategy that needs to be talked about and treated to find alternative ways of managing difficult feelings that are not so damaging. Still, you can't find an alternative until you know what purpose self-harm serves in general or for you personally, so here goes...

Before anyone reads this I just want to put out a brief trigger warning that this post discusses the purposes and reasons as to why people may self harm so if that would trigger you in anyway please click away and read Harry Potter instead.

As I am typing this I am honestly surprised at how uncomfortable I feel discussing this topic. I am fairly open when it comes to my mental health, partly because I am currently unable to hide it, and partly because I want to reach out to other people to either help or offer a bit of company in what can be a very lonely battle of the mind. Writing a post that acknowledges that I self-harm however is somehow harder than waffling on about having anorexia, OCD or depression as I find it really embarrassing. I feel when it comes to self-harm there is a particularly high level of stigma and misunderstanding, it being a common belief that people do it for attention. For this reason I feel a lot of shame admitting that it is something I struggle with, which is silly because it isn't something to be ashamed of at all. Equally it isn't something to be proud of, it is just something that exists as a problem for a lot of people, and so I am going to try and explain it here as best I can to anyone out there who can't get their head round it. Maybe if more people talk about it and understand, we can all be open and able to deal with it rather than keeping it as a shameful secret that will never get better unless it is talked about.

As always I cannot speak for everyone with this issue but I am going to at least provide a list of three reasons as to why personally I struggle with self-harm and perhaps other people will be able to relate. I also just want to preface these points by saying that in explaining the rationale behind self harm I am not justifying it as a good thing to do whatsoever, it is an unhealthy coping strategy that needs to be talked about and treated to find alternative ways of managing difficult feelings that are not so damaging. Still, you can't find an alternative until you know what purpose self harm serves in general or for you personally, so here goes:

1. It provides a release - When I am feeling particularly anxious/stressed/upset, it can feel like I am physically bursting with the emotions coursing around my body. It is like that buzz of adrenaline you get when you are scared of something, your skin prickles, you can feel your heart beating and the extra energy pulsing through your veins. You are full of so much extra emotion that you are going to burst like the lid off a pan of frantically popping popcorn. Without the heat on, the popcorn kernels fit in the pan, but with the heat/distress they expand and burst all over the place because they, like the emotions and upset, take up too much room. When I feel like a bursting pan of popcorn (and we all know what a common feeling that is), self-harm is a way that helps release some of the pressure, it is lifting the lid a little so that some of the popcorn banging around inside can get out.

2. It makes the pain you feel visible, understandable and treatable - A lot of the time, feeling extremely depressed or upset for no logical reason can be frightening as you know it doesn't make sense for you to feel so distressed over nothing. When I self-harm I make the pain that is frightening me understandable. I feel the same pain I was feeling but I can see where the pain is coming from, no longer is it an unknown mental pain, I know the source. I hurt because I have a wound, the pain makes sense and I know that physical wounds can heal, I can do something about it, I know what to do to treat it, and I can be proactive in it getting better. It is still unpleasant, but it is a distraction from the mental pain that was previously occupying all of my brain space, a pain that I couldn't treat, nor did I know for certain if it was ever going to go away.

3. It serves as a punishment to relieve guilt - Like many people in this world, with or without mental health problems, it could be argued that I have low self esteem. I find this hard to believe, as rather than low self esteem I feel I have an accurate understanding of my inadequacies as a human, a self awareness that I am a terrible person, but I have been told this is all lies and the whole low self esteem thing by many people over the years so I try my best to believe them. Anyway, because of the way I feel about myself, I feel guilty for taking up a place on this planet. I feel guilty for wandering around this planet and forcing others to deal with my presence when they would be a lot better off without me, I feel bad for using up oxygen that would better be spent passing through the lungs of someone else. Self-harm is a sort of punishment to lessen the guilt of living, it is to make up for my crimes committed just by existing. I am also not asking for people to tell me that I am not a terrible person because I have never been able to believe anyone else's opinion (which is hilarious really...I think I am the worst person in the world yet simultaneously think I am right about everything...), but if I had to give a comparison to try and help people make sense of all of this, I would basically sum this point up as "I am Dobby the house elf". I am sure everyone has read the Harry Potter books (and if you haven't you really should), so I won't explain this likeness in too much detail, but basically, like Dobby, when I do something wrong I feel I have to do something to punish myself for it.

Sitting here and reading all of that back, I feel as naked as the day I arrived on this planet (remain calm, I am technically wearing clothes right now, I just feel a bit exposed considering I am letting people into a piece of my brain). Still, this is important stuff, and like I said before if nobody talks about it then self-harm becomes this big taboo that will never be understood. Again, this explanation of self-harm is not condoning it in any way and if you are struggling please seek help right away as there are certainly other ways to fulfil the purpose self-harm has in your life. I myself am currently working to battle this issue and find alternative coping mechanisms. When I find some good ones I will certainly be making a post about them to try and help people if possible.

Until then, please stay safe everyone, take care, and know that I am sending a lot of love and support to you all. Cheerio.

For more, find Katie's mental health blog at

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