The Many Faces of Self-Harm

When people think of self-harm, they usually think of severe behavior like self-inflicted cuts or burns. But at least for me, that’s only part of the picture.

In general self-harm is a way to cope. When I perceive no other solution to something that’s eating at me. Or have no words. Or feel to much. Or too little. Or the wrong things. I did and still do cut – the insides of my forearms, wrist to the crook of the elbow; I’m compulsive about only cutting there – but I cut much less often now, maybe once every two or three months. I also don’t shoplift and hide razor blades anymore. If I feel an overwhelming urge to cut and it doesn’t go away and substitutes just don’t do, I can cut under supervision. With a disinfected blade and proper care for the wounds.

But cutting is only a small part of self-harming for me. I employ many other means, too, and some of those are way harder to abandon than the cutting, because they are such spur-of-the-moment things and don’t cause visible harm like open wounds.

  • I gag myself with everyday items like a fork
  • I dress in inappropriate clothes or “forget” my sweater or coat to be cold
  • I eat stuff that makes me feel sick
  • I deliberately annoy others who are reactive to it, to meet the rejection I feel I deserve
  • I go without eating or drinking until it hurts and makes me dizzy
  • I persuade inappropriate partners to have sex to feel the worthlessness and shame
  • I fall down on purpose or jump down the stairs in a way that hurts at the joints
  • I touch the stinging nettles in the garden
  • I neglect my hygiene to have others tell me I smell or look bad
  • I hit body parts against a door frame
  • I pull at my hair or let it get caught in a zipper on purpose
  • I stand in the way of others hoping they will push me to the side
  • I dress in things that look cheap and slutty to make others perceive me so
  • I destroy things that mean something to me to punish myself

That’s all I can think of right now, but I’m sure there’s more. I usually am not even aware they are self-harming behaviors while I do them, so they are nasty to get rid of. Especially because I sometimes also employ them to force attention (like the gagging, which I usually do within sight of someone, as it’s behavior nobody will ignore), so that gives them double purpose (harm and attention) and makes it even harder to let them be.

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