I want to self-harm when I'm reminded of the pain

Nickname/Alias: Giggles 

Subject: self harm 

Message: If you started self harming when you were raped but you quit and you want to self harm again when things remind you of it, what is the best thing to do?


Dearest Giggles,

I am so sorry for what happened to you. It should not have happened, and I pray you have been given the opportunity to talk to someone about what you went through.

To be able to take control of self-harming actions, it is helpful to really understand why self-harm brings you the relief that it does. When you are going through something, or something awful has happened to you, it can be so mentally and emotionally painful that your brain can’t quite make any sense of it. You hurt, and the hurt won’t go away. Rape, more than any other act of violence, causes deep emotional pain because of the shame and guilt it brings in its aftermath. There is no legitimate reason for you to feel shame and guilt, it wasn’t your fault (and don’t you ever think otherwise!), but because something so deep and personal to you was so forcefully abused, those confusing emotions linger and won’t go away.

Despite the real pain you feel, there is nothing physical to show for it, and the immediate physical pain that self-harm brings provides you with a temporary excuse to feel the way you do. Self-harm moves all of your focus and attention onto that intense pain, and for that moment, takes your mind off of the emotional anguish and torment you are feeling inside. To have a tangible and physical reason for the pain you feel helps you forget the deep and enduring emotional pain you can’t seem to shake in any other way… for the moment anyway. And it can become addictive like a drug, because it helps you forget when nothing else can... temporarily.

I’m proud of you for quitting. That takes incredible strength. Now you need to focus your mind on finding a healthy way to forget when triggers cause you to remember that awful moment, and not to turn back to harming yourself. Talking to a professional who is experienced in overcoming trauma would be very beneficial for you. But in the meantime, there are several things you can do to help you forget that won’t cause you physical harm.

-        Don’t create scars, create art instead. Rather than grabbing something sharp, grab a pen or some colorful markers and draw something beautiful in that place on your skin instead. Take pictures of the beautiful drawings and keep them in a scrapbook so that you can look back on them and remember how you turned something ugly into something beautiful. As the drawing fades or is washed off, take comfort in knowing that it hasn’t left a scar.

-        Take yourself away. Physically remove yourself from the thing that triggered your memories, and more importantly, anything you could use to harm yourself with. Go visit a friend, go to a mall, go somewhere public. If you are not in a space that is conducive to harming yourself, you cannot harm yourself. If that is not possible at the moment, distract yourself… call a friend, listen to music that makes you happy, take a shower, watch a good movie, read a good book. Remove yourself and your thoughts from that trigger, and keep yourself away from things you could use to hurt yourself.

-        Journal. When you’re feeling vulnerable, rather than grab something sharp, grab a pen and your journal, find a peaceful place to sit, and start writing. Documenting the circumstances surrounding the trigger can help you become more familiar with what causes you to remember the pain, and can help you identify patterns that lead to self harm. Write a prayer to God, write about your emotions, write about happy moments, write about your fears, write about the past, write about your future… it doesn’t matter what you write, just write. If drawing helps you express yourself better than writing, then draw your heart out.

-        Pray. Thank God for combining His strength with yours and giving you the extra strength needed to quit when you did. Pray for Him to continue fighting alongside you in the battle against the urge to harm yourself, and ask Him for guidance to find more effective ways to manage your pain. Pray for others. Take the focus off of you and your internal thoughts, and pray earnestly for others in your life that you know could use a little extra help right now. Ask Him to show you how you can be there in the best way possible for that friend that is also really struggling right now. Taking the focus off you and caring about others is a remarkably effective way of taking your mind off of your pain.

What happened to you should not have happened and I am sorry it has caused you internalized emotional pain, and that you externalize it by harming yourself. You’ve been strong enough to quit hurting yourself. Lean on the strength God is freely giving you and use it to keep yourself strong enough to never harm yourself again. Find the technique that works best for you and work with God to keep yourself scar free.