There are many ways people can harm themselves, usually people assume ‘self-harm’ is referring to cutting this is just one of the many methods. Here I explain about this and some other common methods all of which I have some personal experience of and I will give brief details of my own experience to help with the explanations…
It can be addictive and some self-harmer’s will experience ‘urges’ to act in these ways as I explain in my previous post *Trigger* Thinking about Self-harm
It is not about other people (attention-seeking), although other people may have triggered a person to self-harm, the actual action is entirely about the self.
1. Cutting – This is what people traditionally think of when they say someone ‘self-harms’. Cutting is often done as a form of self-punishment or as a ‘release’ as Katie explains in her post’s about self-harm myths in the majority of cases this is not about ‘attention seeking’ as people often assume.
Cut’s can be superficial, or severe depending on the level of need of the cutter – personally I only need to see blood from a cut and I am satisfied – it doesn’t need to be deep and I’ve never needed stitches of hospital treatment for my cuts (yet) but often a single cut is not enough, I need to cut multiple times. Also cutting is not necessarily a suicide attempt, cuts on the forearm, thighs or other places where they can be hidden (and many cutters will go to great lengths to hide what they are doing!) are more common than dangerous wrist cuts (also most cutters know how to cut if they really want it to be a suicide attempt and if they did this you would have little chance of seeing them again as they would get it right!
The resulting damage is usually more immediate than in some forms of self-harm, but may not leave long-lasting damage beyond scarring.
2. Physical Injury – Other forms of physical injury are common in self-harm, this includes things like punching walls, head-banging, burning, cutting one’s hair off and many other things, from mild injurious behaviours like skin picking to very risky ones like jumping from heights.
Sometimes these methods of self-harm can result in more serious injuries than cutting, broken bones being one possible result and provoking physical fights with others.
I have punched many a wall in my time usually the most outward expression of anger I will show, but I avoid directing this at others or provoking fights. Sitting banging my head against brick walls is usually related to frustration and inner hurt. I’ve not broken any bones (thankfully) but have had some nasty cuts and bruises. Cuts and burns have a higher chance of scarring as to refresh a ‘release’ feeling they will be picked and scratched at so they bleed again.
And like Britany Spears I have also chopped off my own hair, I didn’t shave it like she did, but I did hack randomly and viciously, in a desire to make myself look as ugly as I felt at the time. Again the results of this type of behaviour are more instantaneous and depending on the level of injury may or may not result in lasting damage.
3. Food – From binge eating, to deliberate starvation, and purging (vomiting) or purely not wanting or needing to eat much if anything as a result of feeling so low or depressed. Food can be used to self-harm and regulate emotions.
Gorging and binge eating can relieve feelings of emptiness, whilst purging can be a release. More serious, but rarer methods of ‘eating for harm’ involve things such as ingesting non-food items or chemicals.
For me the desire to eat can be missing entirely during crisis phases but I have never purged deliberately.
Eating disorders are common co-morbid conditions in those with BPD. Other than the obvious instant relief of feeling full, or empty, using food as a method of self-harm is one way of creating lasting damage such as anorexia, obesity and the medical complaints that can go with these conditions.
4. Alcohol – Even people without mental health issues have a tendency to use alcohol to help them deal with feelings and emotions that may be overwhelming them.
It is a method of self-harm that is barely given a second glance with so many people drinking to excess for fun, a glass of ‘dutch courage’ etc etc. But the fact remains that it is a method of self-harm that can lead to instant damage, or result in long-term harm or damage from ulcers, to liver failure.
I don’t generally have much of a problem with alcohol in the day to day sense, I can go weeks, months, year without touching a drop, but when I am in the ‘wrong’ frame of mind I will binge drink to the point of alcohol poisoning and often mix alcohol with overdosing on over-the-counter medications – not necessarily as a suicidal gesture but at the least as an attempt for a complete ‘block’ out of feelings and emotions.
5. Drugs – Legal drugs, illegal drugs, prescribed medications, over-the-counter medications or other substances from aerosols or gas, to glue.
Drugs fulfil a range of desires and illicit or block feelings and emotions that may be too overwhelming if one is not in an altered state of mind.
I have never used any ‘hard’ drugs, but I have abused various substances. In my teens I sniffed tippex thinners, poppers and glue before moving onto gas. From there I went on to smoking cannabis, I never smoked it often and stopped before I became pregnant; although I did smoke it again a few times when the children were a bit older. Over-the-counter or prescribed medications are what I have abused most of all, mainly in over doses, from paracetamol to Tramadol.
And of course the short and long term risks of all methods of substance abuse are high, from sickness to brain damage and death.
6. Sex – Strangely this topic is probably the most taboo when it comes to self-harm. But sex is a tool for harm as much as any other listed here. The key issue is that impulsive, reckless behaviour associated with BPD and other mental illnesses means that not only is the chance of a very high (or non-existent) sex drive common but that this fill not be easily satisfied in a monogamous relationship.
Many BPD sufferers have suffered sexual abuse and as a result have distorted connections with sex. For me, a high sex-drive and history of abuse mean that I have at times used sex as a form of self-punishment and abuse. When impulsive I have been known to sleep-around, cheating on partners, but worst of all due to the recklessness of this the use of ‘protection’ is rarely considered.
Thus sexual promiscuity as self-harm brings risks of unwanted pregnancy (not an issue for me as I have been sterilised) and sexually transmitted diseases. I have been lucky not to catch anything serious, but others are not so lucky…
Again the short term risks of damaging relationships and STD’s through to long-term risks of life-threatening STD’s, infertility and pregnancy are all high.
7. Spending – Another reckless behaviour. Many people without mental illnesses have issues with excessive spending, why else are so many people in massive amounts of debt!?
For me, when I am low I will buy books, CD’s, DVD’s and clothes to excess, I don’t have the time to read, watch, listen to or wear all the things I buy because I just buy so much. I have been very lucky, I have never gotten into any debt, not even run up an overdraft or had charges on credit cards (I pay in full every month, never miss a payment) but again a lot of people struggle with this.
It can lead to other longer term financial issues such as gambling, loan sharks and losing one’s home if people cannot regain control of their spending habits in the short term.
8. Body Adaptation/Mutilation – From simple things like multiple piercings and tattoo’s to more drastic body adaptions. Body dis-morphia can be art of this or it can be, as it is for me just another form of punishment or release.
I pass out every time I have a tattoo, but I love that it hurts, leaves a permanent record on my skin. generally I always used to stick to having tattoo’s in places where I can keep them hidden if I so wish, but during my major crisis earlier this year I had a tattoo on my neck. A garish, bloody, blade.
I am now paying the price of that one, it looks bad if I go for job interviews, I had to cover it with make-up whilst I was at work in my last job and I am now having laser-removal treatment to try and get rid of it. Laser-removal is a long, uncomfortable process, with a risk of damage and scarring that may actually look worse than the tattoo – although hopefully it looks like it is working well so I may not have those problems.
The risks of tattoos and piercings may not seem so high in comparison to other self harm methods, short term risks of infection being most common. But going to the wrong place can add in a risk of dirty needles and diseases linked to that, and long-term it can affect your ability to gain employment which can have a knock-on effect on other areas of your life.
9. Exercise – You may think you can’t ‘over-do it when it comes to exercise, but have you felt that rush of endorphins when you have had a really good work out?
When I was doing BMF I would do a session, working hard for an hour in a very physically demanding class, then do another session straight after, and being so ‘high’ I would be doing cartwheels down the car park still raring to go when other people were dripping with sweat, exhausted and even feeling nauseous. Like a lot of other things, my body/brain did not handle exercise the way other people do, and I ma not alone in this. The problem comes when this becomes addictive, weight is dropping off you, you can’t eat or sleep you are so hyped up on the endorphins.
Then you crash…
For me having underlying physical problems the crash would be days/weeks of agonising pain, unable to walk, sit, move, stand, do anything without pain that brings tears to your eyes.
Exercise, in moderation, is great. But, for some people the rush and pleasurable feelings (instead of crappy feelings) can be so addictive we take it to dangerous extremes that actually do us more harm than good. Until, like me now, you cannot do any exercise at all, because your body is so damaged…
10. Law breaking – I guess this one is probably the most risky in many ways, but it all depends on the levels people go to. Most common in self-harm will be excessive speeding, with the risks of crashing, death and speeding tickets, but whilst the intention to cause harm may be directed at oneself, the risks to others are far higher in this method of self-harm than almost any other – hitting a pedestrian, causing other cars to crash etc.
Shop-lifting, and theft in general may occur to feed other problem areas such as finance or drugs.
Violence – provoking physical fights, or abusing other people are also a possibility.
I hate this method of self-harm due to the fact that others usually get hurt as a result of someone’s law-breaking activities. I have not indulged in law-breaking beyond some petty shop-lifting as a teenager.
And have no intention of ever indulging in such activities, but not everyone feels this way, BPD or not. People do this all the time, regardless if they have a mental health problem or not, but strangely it is those of us with mental health problems that are more likely to be labelled ‘dangerous’ even if we have never hurt anyone in our lives, ever, and never would…
So there you have it, 10 common methods of self-harm. This is not a comprehensive list, there are still many more types of self-harm. I just wanted to bring attention to the fact that self-harm is far more encompassing that you may suspect or believe. People who self-harm need help to overcome and deal with their problems, but the first step is recognising you have a problem…
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- self harm (traumatotreasure.wordpress.com)
- Self injury / Self harm (cutie79.wordpress.com)
- When Teenagers Cut Themselves (everydayhealth.com)
- Call for new focus in self-harm policies (news.theage.com.au)
- Attention Seeking Personality Disorders!! (guiseeves.wordpress.com)
- Teens Who Hurt Themselves (psychologytoday.com)
- The Social Transformation of Self-Injury (psychologytoday.com)
- Cuts on Amy’s arm suggest she’s self-harming again (heatworld.com)
- Many Self-Harm Patients Don’t Get Psych Evaluation (nlm.nih.gov)
- Self-harm ‘on the rise’ in detention camps (news.theage.com.au)
- A new view of self-harm (guardian.co.uk)
- Road map to mental illness is being redrawn (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Understanding Bulimia (cherished79.wordpress.com)
- More Than Skin Deep: Indian Leaders Address Self-Injury Prevention (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
- *Trigger* – Thinking about self-harm (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Men Struggle With Binge Eating Too, Study Finds (livescience.com)
- Men Do It In Secret Too (….Binge Eating, that is) (eatingbattles.com)
- Deliberate Self-Harm (jeanettebartha.wordpress.com)
- Paranoia, Delusions and Dissociation in Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)