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It’s vitally important to understand that self-harm is a coping mechanism that someone is using in order to deal with often complex, deep-rooted and difficult internal trauma or emotional distress.
It can be a common response to want to immediately stop someone from harming the moment it is discovered, particularly by a loved one who may feel distressed when they see scars or notice weight loss.
To attempt to prevent someone from harming right away is very rarely an effective practice for supporting someone who is self-harming to recover.
Someone who is self-harming will need support to find different coping mechanisms and possibly also treatment for the underlying emotional issues or trauma that has led them to use self-harm as their coping mechanism.
Recovery should be about resilience, being able to equip someone with the tools that help them deal with the underlying distress but also to manage and tolerate their emotional states. We want to encourage people to be whoever they want to be. They are not a ‘self’-harmer’, they are a person with a name.
There may be an interim period of recovery where someone is taught to harm in a safer way, while they transition to other forms of treatment and support.
It may be that bridging techniques are used, so pinging an elastic band on the skin when there is the urge to cut, which is a way of reducing harm but not removing the coping mechanism before other strategies have been developed.
Many people who self-harm are able to find different ways of coping with their distressing feelings or circumstances – the right help and support is vital to recovery.
There are many treatment options available for anxiety both through the NHS and private routes:
Self-harm is not a disorder in and of itself but is a pattern of behaviour that can be damaging and even life-threatening to a person who is harming, and can impose limitations on their life, so it’s important that people know they can seek help and support to recover from the need to self-harm.
Some people will access talking therapies to help them deal with underlying traumas or emotions that contribute to their urge to self-harm.
Harm minimisation as a sole focus only considers the physical symptom rather than the underlying distress. Rather than telling someone you can change and there is hope, with harm minimisation you’re only saying - this is as good as it gets, you’ve just got to manage it.
The road to recovery can be long, and it’s rare that self-harm can be stopped overnight, but it can be reduced and then eventually be entirely replaced by healthier ways of managing distress.