Self-injury: the choice to cope and survive

Broken wheelBeing triggered and feeling the urge or compulsion to self-injure is something that happens to a person; it’s not something they have control over. In contrast, the act of self-injury doesn’t happen to a person, it is something they choose to do to themselves to cope with the emotional distress driving their urge.

Acknowledging that SI is a choice is a positive and powerful step on the road to recovery. What kind of a choice is self-injury? It is a choice to try to cope and survive; something a person chooses to do in order to cope with emotional distress.

So much in life is out of our control. We cannot help being triggered, nor control the urge to self-injure. What we can do is control how we react and how we manage the distress that these things cause. All behaviours are a choice, and if we stop to a take a breath before self-injuring, and recognise that we are responsible for the continuation of our destructive cycles, then we become empowered to break the cycle. Some ideas to help with this step can be found in the Helping you section of our website.

Self-injury is a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with emotional pain. It’s about the abuse, the bullying, the traumatic event, the grief, the overwhelming workload, the pressure, the crushing emotional pain, the anger, the panic, the anxiety, the mental illness. To move away from self-injury we must focus on the cause of our pain. We need help and support for the things that are leading to our self-injury. Recovery isn’t just about choosing to move away from self-injury; primarily it’s about choosing to seek help for the the things that we cannot cope with.

Taking responsibility for SI being our chosen coping mechanism is still important. We are not, usually, responsible for the cause of this emotional pain and it is therefore tempting to dismiss our responsibility for the way we choose to cope with it. But nobody is ever responsible for our self-injury other than ourselves. No thing or person forces us to self-injure.

Taking responsibility isn’t about blaming ourselves; it is about self care. It’s telling ourselves that we don’t have to hurt ourselves, that we deserve health and happiness, and that we deserve to treat ourselves with kindness and love. It’s about sticking a finger up to self-injury and saying: “I don’t need you; I have other choices; I deserve better than this.”

Accepting that self-injury is a choice is self-empowering because it opens up the possibility of alternatives, that otherwise we are denying ourselves. If we open ourselves up to the possibility of other coping methods, we are empowering ourselves to make healthier choices. We might choose distraction techniques, or alternatives to self-injury, or we might choose to visit our ‘read this first‘ page before we resort to self-injury. All of these choices are available to us. We don’t have to take them, but at least we have the choice!

Whilst at LifeSIGNS we recognise the power behind the drivers that lead to self-injury, and the power that self-injury has over a person, we also recognise that we are each responsible for enabling that power. Once we acknowledge that we do have choices other than self-injury, it loses some of its power over us.

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