Self-harming behavior

Do you sometimes harm yourself? Perhaps you feel intense pain within yourself, strong fear, anger or sorrow? Maybe you do it because you feel mistreated, hate yourself, feel guilty or are very lonely? Are these feelings so severe that you can hardly bear it? Every time you feel this way, does it help if you scratch yourself, cut, prick or burn yourself? You feel relieved or freed afterwards, as if the great pressure is gone. But it doesn’t last for long. You are ashamed of what you are doing. No one should find out!

Even though you might think that you are the only one feeling like this, you are not alone. Self-harming behavior is quite common in Europe, the USA and other industrial nations. The trend is increasing, especially girls and young adult females are in the risk group. In Germany alone, it is estimated that 600,000 to 1 million people are affected like this. Most of them begin to harm themselves during puberty (the transition between childhood and adolescence), with many under 14 years of age. Despite the fact that so many people are affected, self-harm doesn’t seem to exit in the public view. In our society it is taboo. As there is insufficient information, the reaction is often a lack of understanding and rejection when self-harming behavior is found out.  

In more than half the cases, no one outside the family knows anything about this behavior. Many girls who harm themselves are great actors, who play the cheerful person while inside they just want to cry. They fear being rejected, if someone finds out.

Self-harming behavior is a survival strategy. It helps you keep your emotional balance. It eases your mental pressure. It might help you avoid suicidal thoughts.

But it doesn’t help forever, because you cannot simply cut out the reasons for your painful feelings. They return again and again and they get bigger and bigger. Self-harming behavior results in additional new pressure. In the end, things get worse and you end up in a vicious cycle from which you cannot escape anymore by yourself.

It can be as addictive as a drug. It’s even possible to measure it in your body’s chemistry. While hurting yourself, endorphin (the so-called happiness hormone) may be produced by your body. This hormone reduces the algesia (the intensity of how you feel the pain) and produces a feeling of happiness at the same time. It is possible that you get addicted to this. It is comparable to the body’s reaction when consuming heroine. Just like any other addiction, you might suffer withdrawal symptoms, such as panic attacks or depression. When self-harming becomes an addiction, it starts reinforcing itself. If you reach this point, you don’t even need a negative stimulus as a trigger anymore. Your mind will start to constantly circle around the self-harm and the need for the happiness hormones connected with it.

Self-harm is, in principle, a cry for help. Unfortunately, it is one that cannot be heard.  It is a visible expression of emotional distress but, at the same time, it is invisible. Self-harm happens in secrecy, in a private room. Due to the shame and fear connected with it, the injuries are covered and hidden. In fact, in such a situation, one needs help but the self-harm itself prevents real help. For a short period of time it brings relief, but it cannot heal the emotional wounds or the true reasons for these wounds.

But this is it what it’s about. Self-harm is not the only survival strategy in your situation. You are able to learn and use much better strategies which will help you resolve the real underlying problem. This is, of course, a process which takes longer and there is no quick solution and relief. But it is doable.

You can get help in the FeM-Mädchenhaus or in other information centers. We understand your situation and are aware of your distress. We will help you to find out in which situations you are most likely in danger of harming yourself. This will help you to understand your own behavior patterns. You will find out what the true reasons for your emotional and mental pain are. You’ll learn to sense your feelings and to talk about them. This will help you to develop new strategies, which will help you in such situations.  

As a first step you may contact with us via the secured areas of this website.