Tiny beads of blood rose on the inside of Jenna’s forearm as she drew the razor blade up her arm. Her mind was filled with a blank silence, as she savored the numbness. “Everything is quiet now, everything is right” she rationalized. Her mother’s voice calls from downstairs and the trouble she got into earlier today floods back into her memory. She hurriedly reaches for her first-aid kit that she keeps tucked away in her closet, bandages up, pulls on a hoodie, and races downstairs.
Becca added a new piece to her collection today. The pencil sharpener blade would work well when the staples and paper clips did not. “It’s getting harder and harder to feel it anymore” she justified as she slipped the blade into her stash.
Jenna and Becca have a few things in common, but many things not. Both have developed a way to cope with their worlds, even though the reason they cope this way is different and how they feel is different from one another. Self-harm can be found at any age and any demographic. It is not a new phenomenon, although it seems there is more awareness of it now than ever before.
What’s Going On?
Much like the two stories above, the intention of self-harm can be either to create a feeling of numbness or to feel something. Generally, those who do it to feel numbness can use it as an escape from intense feelings, while those who do it to feel something are individuals who feel dissociated, or outside of their bodies, and do it to feel “inside” their bodies.
As a counselor I am often faced with parents who have newly discovered that their child is participating in self-harm. Usually one of the first questions is “why?” The concept of intentional self-harm is lost on people who have never considered it themselves, let alone the devastation of learning that your child would do this to herself can be frightening.
Are They Safe?
Another immediate concern is safety. Many naturally assume that self-harm behaviors are a definitive precursor to suicidal behavior, which is not the case. According to a study in The Lancet, one in twelve teens self-harm. Fortunately, ninety percent of cases settle with no permanent harm. Dr. Paul Moran and Dr. George C. Patton, the study’s authors learned that puberty seems to be the time where self-harm chances vastly increase. Many times self-harm behavior is found in tandem with sexual activity, substance abuse and other risky behaviors.
Oftentimes self-harm behaviors and other unhealthy behaviors lessen and even disappear in the counseling setting when the client learns new ways to cope. The therapeutic process allows for the client to process stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and work on self-esteem issues. These can be roots for self-harm behavior and shedding light on them can lead to healing.
*The above characters are fictional, and are a composite of self-harm characteristics and behaviors.
**Statistics found in The Lancet from a 2011 study by Dr. Paul Moran and Dr. George C. Patton