Sometimes people experience emotions that they don’t know how to deal with. For some people, these emotions may be particularly intense, negative and overwhelming, leaving the individual feeling numb and detached from the rest of the world.
Such individuals may feel that the only way to get relief from the internal distress they experience, or to gain some level of control over the intensity of their emotions, is to externalize their pain. They do this by harming their own bodies.
This externalization of pain by hurting themselves allows them to ‘feel alive’ in the face of intense numbness. We call such behaviours self-harming behaviours or ‘self harm’. Self-harm includes anything done to intentionally injure oneself.
Signs and symptoms might include:
- Cutting or severely scratching your skin
- Burning or scalding yourself
- Hitting yourself or banging your head
- Punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects
- Sticking objects into your skin
- Intentionally preventing wounds from healing
- Swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects
Other ways of self-harming include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge drinking, taking too many drugs, and having unsafe sex.
As you can see, self-harm is complex. There are many reasons why people self-harm, so it’s important for individuals who find themselves cutting or burning themselves to seek out professionals who understand how and why self harming behaviours occur.