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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Wensley

It's not about the wound

This is a topic that gets brought into my world all too frequently.

A topic that is still so misunderstood.

A topic that can be shocking.

The topic is self harm.

When we mention self harm the first thing we tend to think of is the wound and how heartbreakingly shocking it is to witness a person deliberately hurting themselves.

What is so important to understand is that the wound is not the objective, it is merely a tool in order to achieve a certain outcome and that outcome is a specific emotion.

When exploring the reason for self harm it is important to find out what the objective of the harm is.

How were they hoping this would make them feel?

Reasons for self harm;

* To feel something, anything. Often trauma causes a person to feel so numb, they just need to feel something.

Encourage an alternative, things to suggest;

* Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm.

* Slip a think rubber band onto your wrist and snap it against your skin.

*Exercise until you can feel your heart beating in your chest.

* 𝗦𝗲𝗹𝗳 𝗣𝘂𝗻𝗶𝘀𝗵𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁. A feeling of guilt, perhaps they have done something they are ashamed of, or they are blaming themselves for something that has happened.

Encourage an alternative, things to suggest;

*Tell someone what happened, chances are it wasn't your fault.

*Write down why you feel so guilty, then write down why you deserve to be forgiven.

*Apologise to whomever you feel you have wronged?

*Take on a difficult task in order to "punish", a tough exercise routine or learning a new language for example.

* To release. 'Letting out the bad' is a common term for self harming (cutting).

Encourage an alternative, things to suggest;

* Scream into a pillow.

*Exercise, run as fast as you can, skip, fast jumping jacks.

*Listen to powerful music.

*Cry it out.

* To make emotional pain visible. By making emotional pain visible it can be easier to understand. If you can see it, you can process that it is happening.

Encourage an alternative, things to suggest;

* Write down how you are feeling. Then destroy the note.

* Draw your pain make it into a thing, a being. Then destroy it.

* Write a song.

*Cry whilst looking at yourself in the mirror.

You cannot force someone not to self harm, even if you remove every "danger" from the house, if they want to cut or hurt themselves, they will find a way and removing all that you feel could enable them to harm themselves, could cause them to feel shameful.

What you can do is find out what they are looking to feel and find another way to achieve that.

Be aware that because self harm can become a habit, it might not stop as soon as an alternative solution has been found.

In this case, distraction is required. Create a plan with your young person to make a note of when the feeling occurs, is it a particular time, place, around a particular person, when a particular memory pops up?

Once that pattern has been found, add in a distraction. Use either one of the alternatives to achieve the desired emotion, or create your own.

Go for a fast walk (my personal distraction when I was overcoming this habit many years ago), drink a pint of water, listen to your favourite song, stroke a pet, call a friend...Find a distraction that works for the individual.

Experiencing self harm in young people can feel frightening yet it is so important to stay calm, do not make a fuss over the injury. Teach them how to treat the wound, self care will also increase self love and make sure they know that you are a solid and dependable support who will work trough this with them, without judgement.

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