How Not to Hurt Myself

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Reader’s Question

I’m a 16-year-old girl. When I was five, I used to play with my best friend (who was older than me), violent games like hurting each other or imagining that we were being tortured. After a while she had to travel, and I started playing these games alone! I started hurting myself, and that was really interesting; then I grew up and found out that self-hurting is really bad.

But now I can’t stop it, as it’s interesting and relaxing. Actually, it’s growing, as I learn other ways of hurting and torturing! Also, I do other things that I can’t say, which are really harmful; they were natural results of such games! Would you please tell me a way to stop that thing? I’m really afraid of committing suicide or seriously harming myself.

By the way, when I tried to stop it, I did — I only imagined hurting myself. But then I regularly woke up at night and hurt myself uncontrollably. Please find me a solution!

Psychologist’s Reply

It is highly unusual for a five-year-old child to play games like the ones you described, especially ones that involve imagining torture. That is not something I would expect from someone so young, unless there was some previous experience with it. Thus, I have to wonder if there is not some abuse in your background. I’m also disturbed that the violent and harmful games don’t seem to have gotten the attention of the adults who were supposed to be taking care of you. That again is not something I would expect.

The nature of self-harm is such that the continuous infliction of pain does become self-soothing after a while, because it satisfies some need in the person. Oftentimes, people self-harm because it allows them to focus on the physical pain (which they can handle) instead of the emotional pain (which they cannot). This does not make it a good coping mechanism though, so I am pleased to hear that it is a behavior you need and want to change. I’m always impressed when people your age demonstrate keen insight.

From your description, it sounds like there is minimal adult supervision in your life and/or there isn’t anyone close enough to you that you feel comfortable trusting with this information. However, obtaining adult assistance with this problem is imperative, especially if the self-harm is escalating. You need to find a counselor who specializes in self-harm issues. This person will then be able to discover the reasons for your self-harm and provide approaches that will keep you from self-harming. A good counselor will also assist you in developing more positive (and less hurtful) coping strategies.

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Please ask a trusted adult for help or, if that is not a possibility, your school counselor may be able to recommend a good counselor and/or treatment program. If that is not practical, then some websites on self-harm may be helpful. One good site is S.A.F.E. Alternatives, which offers resources, referrals, education for school administrators, treatment alternatives and even a blog for people who self-harm, and another one for their parents. Another useful site is Reachout.com, which gives people a place to read about and connect with others who are experiencing the same thing, as well as information for how to get help.

Whatever you decide, I hope you get the help you deserve. No one should have to be in physical pain in order to feel better.

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