When I was young, I didn’t realize it was self-injury; I just knew that it made me feel good, better than I would otherwise feel. I was young enough that I didn’t have all of my adult teeth. When a tooth was loose, I would press it firmly back into my gums until my eyes rolled back up into my head at the pure release of the pain. I felt alive.
Once I was a teenager, my SI tendencies moved to punching myself, usually my thighs, and cutting—only superficial cuts, just enough to see the blood flow. Again, I felt alive. More than that, I felt grounded and comforted in the pain. Growing up in a household riddled with alcoholism, I didn’t feel like I had an outlet for my emotions. Physical pain became the only way I could purge myself of what was inside me.
I felt alive.
A big misconception is that people who self-injure are trying to kill themselves. On the contrary, in many cases, people with SI want to live, and SI is a means of living with the consequences of abnormal circumstances. This reality doesn’t mean that SI is good—it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism. Still, people use it to cope with life rather than ending it.
A doctor once advised me of the physiological aspects of SI. When we feel pain, endorphins are released and a feeling of numbness overcomes us. People often feel a release with SI because of this chemical reaction. I found that it can also be addicting, meaning that I would cut or hit myself more than one time during a particular SI instance. This repetitiveness is the danger because serious damage could be wrought, including death if one cuts too deeply. In these cases, what looks like suicide is actually an accident.
However, this still begs the question as to what can be done to prevent people from self-injuring. As I stated, I did so because of an unhealthy living arrangement and was unable to withstand the psychological payload of others’ bad behaviors. I could have reacted differently—some people do drugs, run away, or use promiscuity to cope. The point is that just like SI, all of these are unhealthy coping mechanisms. Growing up, we aren’t taught healthy ways to cope with stress much less the possibility of pathological home lives. Maybe we assume that everyone is happy and don’t want to believe that these things happen to young people. In doing this, we do a great disservice to those who are struggling to survive.
I felt alive.
I challenge you. First, educate yourselves and try to understand that self-injury is not some otherworldly behavior that only affects people with suicidal ideations. Aside from SI, many of us are pretty mundane—you wouldn’t even recognize our self-injury in regular, daily interactions with us. Second, self-injury is not a prolonged method to kill oneself—it is an unhealthy coping mechanism in response to unhealthy living conditions. Third, be self-aware about your own coping mechanisms when it comes to stress, anxiety, depression, etc. Are they healthy? What are some healthy ways to cope with life’s trials and tribulations? Teach yourself to respond in healthy ways before you find yourself dealing with psychological pressure. Four, if you’re a parent, for the sake of all that is holy, teach your children the healthy methods that you have learned. Give them the tools they need so they do not have to be abnormally creative with life’s stressors.
Most of all, have compassion for one another.
Lastly, I’m proud to say that with the exception of one incident, I have been free from self-injury for eleven years. Healthier living is possible.
She was born and raised in the foothills of Appalachia and currently resides in the Chicago metropolitan area with her husband and daughter. She is eclectic, having diverse interests that show in her writing. J.B. has a degree in Sociology in which her studies focused on crime/deviant behavior for undergrad and race/gender relations in post-grad. She loves to travel, particularly to India, and her varied experiences around the world are woven into her stories.
Aside from writing, J.B. loves to read, listen to music, watch good TV/movies, crochet and above all else, spend time with family and friends.