If you're currently having any suicidal thoughts or plans to harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone, and there is always someone out there who can listen to you and help you.
Self-harm, suicidal ideation and other parasuicidal behaviors are taboo topics, and they're ones I think need to be covered when we talk about self-care, precisely because they exist on the opposite side of the spectrum: self-destruction.
The less we speak out about them, the more we stigmatize these topics and the more likely people who need help will be unlikely to seek it due to feelings of shame, alienation and isolation.
Since these are such heavy topics, I thought I would tackle it by beginning with the myths about self-harm and suicide before moving onto alternate rebellion tips for self-harm as well as other coping resources available to you. It is by first dispelling the popular myths that we can first begin to navigate the realities of it and offer solutions.
The Myths About Self Harm & Suicide
1. Those who self-harm or who have suicidal ideation are selfish.
This is simply not true. People who suffer from suicidal thoughts and urges are often suffering from an excess of pain and a lack of (internal and external) coping resources. If anything, self-harmers and those who have suicidal urges often feel like they impose a burden on loved ones by their very existence.
Please try to remember this if you yourself self-harm or know someone who self-harms, because invalidating their emotional experiences may increase their perceived burdensomeness which can then increase their urges. Validation, a nonjudgmental stance and support are key when communicating with someone who engages in self-harm or expresses suicidal thoughts.
2. Those who self-harm or attempt suicide are just looking for attention.
It's very possible that people who self-harm or attempt suicide are looking to receive help, but to minimize their pain as merely attention-grabbing techniques invalidates the real suffering they're going through and again perpetuates the myths that prevent them from getting the help they need in the first place. Yes, self-harmers can cry for help - but they do so because they actually need it. If you know someone who self-harms or struggles with suicidal thoughts/urges, try to show understanding and compassion in your approach rather than judgment. It can make a world of difference.
3. People who self-harm or attempt suicide are unintelligent and weak.
People who self-harm and have suicidal or parasuicidal tendencies might be struggling, but that does not have anything to do with their intelligence or strength. When we consider the role that trauma in the environment plays on early brain development, we should be more sensitive, compassionate and empathetic towards those who have suffered emotional trauma or who use self-harm as a coping mechanism.
There are also other factors that may result in suicidal thoughts or tendencies; growing up with an abusive, narcissistic parent or being in a long-term relationship with a toxic, abusive partner such as a narcissist or sociopath may increase feelings of perceived burdensomeness, low self-esteem and worthlessness which can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Someone who self-harms or is suicidal is not any less intelligent or educated; he or she is struggling and needs help. Please do not promote this myth of "weakness" by judging this person as it takes an incredibly strong person to speak out, ask for help, and share his or her experience.
Survivors of suicidal attempts or self-harm are actually immensely strong people; they have overcome a strong desire to self-destruct and/or die and are still thriving today. Remember that it takes a great deal of courage and strength to live and move forward when struggling with these thoughts and urges.
4. People who self-harm want to kill themselves.
There is a distinction between suicide and self-harm, as well as the intent behind these two actions. As mentioned previously, people who self-harm use this as a maladaptive coping mechanism - the act of self-harm, paradoxically enough, essentially enables them to survive despite the pain they inflict upon themselves.
5. Suicidal ideation is the same as suicidal planning or action.
Ideation involves thoughts and fantasies of suicide, but there is a difference between thinking about suicide and actually developing a plan. Developing a plan places a person more at risk of actually acting upon their thoughts. Psychiatrists are taught to assess the difference with their clients and assess accordingly.
Alternative Rebellion Tips for Self-Harm
1. Writing on your body and expressing yourself in other ways.
Use a red marker instead of a razor to mark yourself. Use a rubber band on your wrist and snap it every time you have the urge to self-harm. Punch a pillow to get the rage out. For those who are interested in body modification, former self-harmers like Demi Lovato have used tattooing as a creative art form to express pain through their body in positive ways. Instead of self-harming, consider getting a piercing or a tattoo that symbolizes something empowering to you.
2. Instead of silencing your pain or expressing it maladaptively, use your voice in a way that is loving towards yourself.
Self-harmers can shut down and express their emotions through the harm they inflict upon themselves. Instead of silencing or punishing yourself, allow your voice to flourish in a positive manner. Whenever you feel the urge to harm yourself, use a positive affirmation that you repeat to yourself on a daily basis instead, like, "I am worthy," "I love myself," or "I approve of myself." Carry around a list of things you absolutely love about yourself and open when needed. Cover your bulletin boards and walls with positive, empowering messages; record love notes to yourself on tape and press replay. Do some mirror work and look at yourself as you soothe yourself. Use creative ways to rewrite the old scripts of self-hatred and turn them into self-love.This rewriting of the old scripts will retrain your subconscious to accept and love yourself more fully over time.
3. Exercising as an empowering tool.
Take a kickboxing class, a cardio kickboxing class, martial arts, self-defense or dance cardio class to get your heart pumping and to release endorphins in a healthier way. Try a relaxing yoga class, one that incorporates meditation and mindfulness to release the trauma and stress trapped within your body. Learn to channel your aggression by propelling your body into energetic movement. Not only will it help with the feelings of depression, helplessness and hopelessness, combating a pervasive sense of paralysis, it will teach you to use your body as a vehicle for empowerment rather than as a site of pain and destruction.
4. Artistic expression.
Write, draw, and create things instead of destroying yourself. Develop a weekly schedule that incorporates artistic expression and develop a habit of engaging in these outlets for expression. Paint on a canvas, sketch on a drawing pad, write poetry in a journal, mold clay into different shapes. Use your hands to create something new. Not only will this promote healthier coping methods for when you experience extreme duress, you will be using your unique skills to showcase your talents and maybe even benefit the world around you if you choose to share them.
Studies show that meditation literally changes gene expression which counter the "fight or flight" stress response, shapes the brain's neural networks to benefit the way our brain responds to stress and allocates attentional resources more efficiently. Meditation is a great stress reliever and can help you during times when you are feeling particularly impulsive and need to slow down, take a deep breath and refocus on the present moment. Develop a daily habit of meditating for at least ten minutes and use it whenever you feel overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts or urges to refocus your brain and bring it back to the present moment.
6. Rebel positively.
Instead of harming yourself, do something that you otherwise might not do. You can make this a daily, weekly or monthly habit - whatever works for you, just so long as it satisfies your need to express yourself in healthier, productive ways. Speak your mind where you would normally stay quiet. Dress in a different way than what's expected of you. Do something fun instead of putting your usual responsibilities first. You can find more ideas in the "Ideas for Alternate Rebellion" link in the list below.
7. Tell someone.
This is perhaps the most rebellious act because it means putting any shame, guilt or fear you have aside and telling the truth to someone you trust. If you feel comfortable doing so, confide in someone about what's happening (whether it's about your emotions or the act of self-harm itself, or both) instead of keeping it all in if you usually repress your thoughts and feelings. Having support is so important because it reminds you that you are cared for and worthy of love, respect and compassion. By alternatively rebelling instead of engaging in self-harm, you also give that same love, respect and compassion to yourself.
Other Coping Resources
For more self-care tips, please be sure to visit my blog, Self-Care Haven.