Girls who hurt themselves in a desperate attempt to deal with feeling too much or too little...
By Shari Levine
Girl Zone received a letter from a 17 year old girl who I will call Willow (not her real name). She asked us to publish her story ...so that others can be informed about what people in great distress can be capable of. By the time I finished reading her letter I was in tears. So, to let Girl Zone readers know more about this serious problem, called self-mutilation, I decided to share parts of Willow's letter and some important information from books and articles. Here goes...
To my friends I'm funny, happy, outgoing and carefree. But in reality, my life is much to the contrary. I carry around a secret that is known to very few of my close friends. I live in a closet that is full of shame and resentment.
I am ashamed of what I do and this is why I hide the scars that are left behind by my actions.
What Willow is talking about is self-mutilation (also known as self-harm or self-injury). Self-mutilation is when a person deliberately hurts her body without the conscious intent to commit suicide. The most common method of self-mutilation is called cutting -- when a person deliberately cuts her skin until she bleeds. Other ways that girls harm themselves include burning or pinching the skin, or hitting themselves with a hammer.
To those girls who do NOT deliberately hurt themselves, these behaviors may seem strange and destructive. But, 2 to 4 million Americans mutilate themselves in a desperate attempt to make the bad feelings go away.
No matter what, everybody has some negative or unhappy feelings. Stress, sadness, death, and loneliness are some of the difficult things that we all eventually have to cope with. There are many different strategies that you can use to deal with bad feelings, some are healthy and some are not. Talking to a friend, writing in a journal or taking a walk are examples of healthy coping strategies. On the other hand, using drugs or alcohol, or self-mutilation are unhealthy and can be really dangerous.
It was a chilly afternoon the first time that I did it. I remember wearing my favorite sweater. It was the day that my grandparents passed away. My entire family was sitting in the living room crying and I just sat there staring at them with a blank expression. I had this empty feeling inside, like I was completely numb. So, I got up and went into the bathroom. All I wanted to do was cry like everyone else. But I wasn't. So I started looking around the bathroom and after a few minutes I found a razor blade. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just stared at it for a long time. Then, out of nowhere, I knew what I had to do. I just wanted to cry and I knew that if I cut myself, then I would cry.
But with so many other ways to cope, why would a girl do this to herself?
Willow writes Sometimes I cut myself in order to feel. In order to be real and in order to be free. It's as if I'm so numb to the world that I just need something to remind me that I can experience things. Other times I cut in order to end a mounting type of anxiety that seems almost emotionally paralyzing.
Researchers say that there are many reasons why people self-mutilate.
- To escape from emptiness, depression, and feelings of unreality
- To ease tension (stress)
- To escape from feeling numb
- To relieve anger
- To express emotional pain
Willow writes, I purposely use sharp objects in order to inflict pain upon myself. When things get too heavy for me to handle, I turn to self-destructive behavior for the answer.
What puts someone at risk for self-mutilation? Many things, especially being a girl (60% of people who self-mutilate are female).
In our culture girls are not taught to express or voice their angry feelings. So, they take feelings of anger out on themselves. People who self-mutilate also tend to be depressed and anxious, and have not developed skills to cope with these feelings in a healthy way. Many people who self-mutilate have been abused sexually or physically, or neglected.
There IS hope for people who self-mutilate...
No matter how tough things get, just remember to hang in there. The fight is a hard one, but to eventually win, it is well worth the fight.
If you self-mutilate, the first step is to tell someone who can help you find a good mental health professional who can help. That person can be your parents, an adult friend or mentor, teacher, or pastor/rabbi, etc. It is very important to get professional help in dealing with this problem.
There are things you can do to help yourself. To stop, you need to find an alternate way of dealing with the intense emotions that drive you to self-mutilate.
Uncover Your Emotions:
Before you turn to self-mutilation, ask yourself: What is the emotion that is driving me to hurt myself? Once you know what that emotion is, you can try to deal with that feeling in a healthier way. For example:
If you feel angry or frustrated...
Try doing something to relieve your anger like hitting a punching bag or a pillow, rip paper, break sticks, or hit tennis balls as far as you can.
If you feel sad or depressed...
Try taking a hot bath, listening to soothing music, or talking to a friend.
If you are feeling unreal, wooden, or dead inside...
Do something that creates a physical sensation that is not harmful like squeeze a handful of ice, put your finger into a gallon of ice cream, take a cold bath, or bite a hot pepper.
Play the 15 minute Game:
Promise yourself that if you still want to hurt yourself in 15 minutes, you can. When 15 minutes has passed, see if you can go another 15. Make it a personal challenge to beat your record.
Choose someone you can call when you feel like you are going to hurt yourself. This should be a person who you trust, and who will support you through your struggle.
Willow says My advice to you is to find someone, anyone who you can confide in. Use her as the main key in getting better. Tell her when you feel like cutting, let her know how you are doing and allow her to be there to support you in everything that you do.
Put your feelings down in a journal or in a letter.
Try Relaxation Techniques:
Experiment using relaxation exercises and/or breathing to calm your mind.
Call a crisis hotline. There is lots of help available for those dealing with self-mutilation and for their friends and families. For more information and assistance go to this Website - SAFE (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) or call 1-800-DONTCUT.