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Self-mutilation

What is self-mutilation?

Self-mutilation means injuring oneself. It can take different forms: cuts, scratches, burns, blows to the head, drug overdoses, etc.

Self-mutilation = Suicidal thoughts?

Someone who self-mutilates is trying to manage overly intense emotions by using a negative strategy. Often, the injuries they inflict on themselves aren’t an attempt to end their life but instead a clumsy way of fighting against emotional distress.

Possible reasons

• To express intense, painful emotions when the person feels overwhelmed
• To relieve psychological pain and distress
• To ask for help and support
• To get the impression of controlling a situation where they’re afraid of losing control
• To calm a feeling of emptiness or numbness

Risks or dangers

The relief that self-mutilation may give doesn’t last. But the scars will be permanent. Self-mutilation can also drag you into a vicious circle: your emotions are too intense, you harm yourself, the emotions don’t disappear, they grow… you feel guilty and powerless, and your self-mutilation grows more and more frequent and dangerous.

Express your painful emotions

There are different ways of expressing your painful emotions: scream into a pillow, let off steam in sports, cry, use art (drawing, singing, etc.), take deep breaths. Repeat to yourself that you can control your desire to hurt yourself, that this desire doesn’t control you. Write a positive word on the part of your body that you hurt most often. You can also call a friend to help you or contact Tel-jeunes.

Frequently asked questions

My friend has marks on his/her body. Should I talk to him/her about it?

If you feel comfortable talking about the subject with your friend, choose a suitable moment and go ahead. Just remember that you aren’t a health care professional. Your role is to encourage your friend to get help, while setting your own boundaries and expressing your emotions. For example, you can tell your friend that you’re worried about him/her and that you feel powerless. Even if it’s hard for you to understand why he/she is doing that, your friend needs you to stay calm and listen without judgment. Often, your friend may feel ashamed of his/her behaviour.

How can I help a friend who’s self-mutilating?

Even if you feel angry or panicky, your friend needs you to take him/her seriously and listen without judging, because he/she may feel ashamed. Criticizing your friend will only make the situation worse. Encourage your friend to get professional help and support him/her in this effort. Reassure your friend by saying that you appreciate him/her and that you’re there for him/her. Ask questions so your friend can express his/her emotions. Most importantly, don’t deal with this situation all alone. Get support because the situation can become too much for you to handle. You can talk about it with Tel-jeunes.

Should someone stop self-mutilating?

Yes, even if the person claims that self-mutilation relieves his/her pain or makes him/her feel better. First of all, this relief is only felt in the short term. The person can soon become hooked on this short-lived relief, start again, and fall into a vicious circle. In the long term, the situation is likely to get worse. As soon as the person feels emotions that are hard to contain, he/she harms himself/herself. Sooner or later, the emotions return and get stronger. Then the person feels guilty and starts doing it again, more and more often, and more and more riskily...

Can I stop this behaviour by myself?

Some people can stop by themselves, by using other ways to blow off steam and express their emotions, such as sports, art, outings with friends, deep, conscious breathing, etc. Other people need help and support. If you feel powerless about your situation and the desire to hurt yourself remains too overpowering, don’t hesitate to consult a health care professional who can give you the tools to help you break free of the vicious circle of self-mutilation.