Overcoming the Urge to Self-Harm

Flickr/ Send me adrift

I purposefully cut myself for the first time the summer after high school graduation. I had been suffering from feelings of depression for over a year, was in a severely unhealthy relationship, and one day all of the pain and confusion suddenly became unbearable. I needed a release. I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could talk to who would really understand every angle of my life, so going to my parents or a friend wasn’t an appealing option. And to be honest there was something about cutting that felt tragically romantic. So that’s what I did. And it’s true, I did feel something like relief afterwards. But it didn’t last long.

I moved to college that August and the busyness and excitement of that new adventure was enough to keep destructive behaviors at bay for a while. But soon circumstances stacked against me, due both to my own choices and the choices of others, and I spiraled into a deeper depression than I had known before, despite being on anti-depressant medication. In addition to other self-medicating behaviors (that actually only do the self more harm), I began cutting my arms on a regular basis.

I’ve heard about other people who cut themselves going to great lengths to cover up the evidence: always wearing long sleeves, never letting anyone see their skin. I never felt much need for that. It was almost like I wanted people to see the marks. Maybe, in a way, it was my cry for help. Several friends asked me about it, but didn’t know what to do. One weekend, on a visit home, my mom saw my arm. She immediately set up an appointment for me with a faith-based counselor on campus, and I started visiting this woman weekly. I had talked with a psychiatrist before and never felt truly understood, so I wasn’t expecting much. But this counselor was different. She listened well, gave understanding feedback, and seemed to really care about me.

Through counseling, I came to understand myself better. I realized that I am someone who thinks and feels deeply, but who has a hard time verbally expressing myself to other people. So the result is that eventually all of my intense thoughts and feelings come to feel like a volcano inside of me that needs to erupt. If I’m not prepared for it, it will happen in unhealthy ways. So having scheduled, regular visits with a counselor (who was trained and skilled in the kind of conversation I needed) was an important key at that time in my life.

The urge to hurt myself didn’t magically go away overnight, but I was able to acknowledge that it wasn’t good for me and that I needed to exercise my will and make the choice. With my counselor’s help, I made a brief list of things I could do when I felt the desire to cut. These were things like, call a friend or my mom to talk, write a poem or journal entry, or take a walk around a pond that I loved. None of these felt particularly powerful in the moment, but little by little I was able to replace my old negative behaviors with more positive ones.

Looking back on this time of my life, I still feel a deep sense of sadness over it. But at the same time I’m thankful that there were people in my life available to help me so that it never got worse. I know I’m lucky, and I hope that I can be one of those people to someone else who needs it.


Shannon is a wife and mother of two boys who spends her time hosing mud off children, scrubbing sticky furniture, and rushing to the ER to have nails extracted from small intestines. Shannon lives in Iowa and blogs at We, A Great Parade (http://www.agreatparade.com/).She is part of I Believe in Love because she believes in the beauty of humanity.
Written By
More from Shannon

I Decided to Marry My Husband Before We Started Dating

Ring, ring. I answered the phone.  Whoa! A blast from the past....
Read More