The Unspoken Truth on Self Harm


Scars. The damaged skin tissue that self-harm victims carry with them all their lives. They hide them, some try to raise awareness but they all get hate thrown at them. Self-injury is a heavily stigmatized practice and the stigmatizations leave people with unmeasurable shame, which leads to negative self-esteem and the need to hide their scars. The result – is fear to seek remedial medical or professional psychological help. Instead, they indulge in self-pity and self-blame for the inability to cope healthily with their suffering.

Self-harm victims use cuts or burns as a way to cope with their misery, which manifests in various forms including depression, anxiety, bullying, low self-esteem, substance abuse,  alcohol, and drugs. They have difficulties in managing their home and school social life. Society expects everyone to conceal their pain and not endanger public safety. Anyone who threatens or commits self-harm is viewed as crazy, mad, or said to have a few screws loose. The emotional turmoil they go through is considered mundane and brushed aside, due to the negative perceptions and unfounded myths surrounding this affliction. Conversations about self-harm are nearly impossible to have. And when they happen, there is heightened fear that the victim is suicidal or seeking attention.

The truth is, when a person cuts themselves, they are fighting suicidal thoughts. It is an anti-suicidal gesture to try to feel better. It is their way of coping with emotional and psychological pain. A barter trade, so to speak, exchanging emotional pain for physical pain in the desperate attempt to survive rather than end your life. But, with the underlying distress and lack of safe and effective coping mechanisms, the risk of suicide is high.

Self-harm tends to be a private act used to manage sadness, anger, and other straining emotions. It is a cry for help, not attention-seeking or manipulative tendencies. The shame that follows the cutting is overwhelming, and the victim will keep it to themselves to avoid more outward shame. Unknown to those around the victim, the self-harming act is their last resort for coping with emotional pain. Before this, there will be shedding of tears, periods of ranting, of keeping to oneself. They toy with the idea of physical harm and only turn to it when all other alternatives appear to fail. So they try it once…twice…thrice…increasing the frequency thanks to the relief that follows the physical pain of the blade cutting through your flesh, the red blood flowing. You realize that while the pain gets to a peek with self-injury, it comes down with the other side. As the physical pain lessens, so does the emotional pain. Science explains it as a way of using the same neural circuits. You ride the wave of pain until you get to the still mind-numbing feel of calm. Unfortunately, as the feeling dissipates, the victim desires it back, and so they cut again…and again…and again…

Self-harm does not heal the pain. Repeating the act not only leaves the victim scarred but broken. They will vow not to do it again, but the high that comes from the physical pain will seduce them to break the vow.

The inner self screams for you to stop. You try to pay heed but you are too weak and fall back into the same damaging cycle. It’s like an addiction! Psychiatrists treat victims of self-harm as they would treat drug addicts. The problem remains until resolved. Before then, there is a lasting reminder of their moments of desperation via the permanent tattoos imprinted onto their skin.

Finding a different coping mechanism may seem difficult if not impossible, but there are some methods you could take to reduce the urge. This process takes time and you should not be disappointed if the urge doesn’t dissipate immediately. If you’re prone to self-harm and would like to stop, start by recognizing the circumstances and situations that trigger you and work on avoiding them. If desperate for an outlet to express the pain, try; drawing or scribbling in red ink, writing down your feelings in poetry or song, listening to music that talks about what you’re feeling, or even ripping up pieces of paper. If you need to substitute the cutting sensation try rubbing an ice cube on your skin, draw on your skin with a soft-tipped red pen or wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it gently against your skin. If you’re having trouble finding something that works, talk with a therapist or counselor. Getting professional help to overcome the problem doesn’t mean you’re weak or crazy. Therapists and counselors are trained to help people discover inner strengths that help them heal. Self-harm is a difficult pattern to break, but it is possible.

The World Youth Alliance stands to teach the dignity and intrinsic value of others and yourself. Seeing oneself as a dignified person allows you to make decisions aligned to benefit the human person, which helps the healing process and one’s overall mental health. 

[su_divider top=”no” margin=”0″]

Published: April 13, 2022
Written by Sheina Karuoya, a WYA Africa intern from Nairobi, Kenya

You can apply for the Africa regional internship on the website. Applications for Batch 2 2022 are now open.



More To Explore