I stopped seeing relapses as failures and just stopped putting so much stock into whether I cut or not. Cutting is a symptom, not the problem. Keep treating your underlying issues, that's what will bring your cutting to an eventual end. Obviously, you want to try your best to use other coping skills, but beating yourself up is counter productive.
This was the answer I needed to hear yesterday, in response to the question I posted about how to love yourself when you screw up. I found it on reddit.com, and though the response wasn't meant for me, it spoke to me.
You see, I struggle with this. With harming myself on purpose. I pick at scabs so they take much longer than necessary to heal. I scratch at bug bites or the leftover residue on my arm from a band-aid until the skin breaks open. I have never purposefully cut myself with a blade or the like...but I don't let myself heal, which amounts to the same thing in the end.
Two questions to ask to see if you have a self-harming issue:
Do you deliberately cause physical harm to yourself to the extent of causing tissue damage? Yes, I do.
Do you cause this harm to yourself as a way of dealing with unpleasant or overwhelming emotions, thoughts, or situations? I believe so, though that's not always the case.
I'm a bit borderline, I think, but it's close enough. What I've been trying to figure out for months is what triggers me to harm myself. Sometimes it's simply boredom - my fingers want something to do, and instead of grabbing my phone or a puzzle, my fingers mess with my scabs. Yet there are other causes as well, and last night I finally think I pinpointed the main causes - feeling invalidated or vulnerable.
(Even as I'm typing, I'm having to fight the urge to pick at my face.)
I've always been a sensitive soul. I take criticism hard. I can't stand arguments or making other people unhappy with me. (This is deeper for me than a mere dislike of them - I do everything in my power to avoid them.) And for as much as I can fully remember from growing up (especially once I got to the jr. high/high school age), I was shown that I was basically always wrong, always being bad, never doing what I was supposed to or how I was supposed to. I feel bad even typing this, because I don't want my parents to read this and feel bad. How messed up is that?? I don't blame my parents for anything. They are good people, and I know they did the best for me and my brother that they could, and I thank them for sticking with us and giving us all they could. (My parents got divorced when I was about 5.) I love my parents, and I'm closer to them now than I ever was growing up with them. Still, the problem started there, and I can't deny that.
And so it seemed no matter what I did, I was never trying hard enough, never caught on fast enough, never did things right, never expressed what I was supposed to express in just the right way. My mom yelled at me, and my dad guilt tripped me. Loud voice, soft voice, it didn't matter - it was all telling me just what a screw up I was. And so I hid inside myself. I clammed up, rarely bothering to state my opinion or ask a question, since I knew that 8 times out of 10 the response would be negative. I only answered what was asked of me, and tried to give the answer I knew was expected. I let people (family and friends alike) walk over me like I meant nothing...in my mind, my thoughts and emotions were always wrong anyways, so it was much easier and better to simply go with the flow and let other people think for me, to stick with the ones who clearly enjoyed being with me regardless and simply let them rule. In high school, I don't remember picking often...I was still in marching band then, I wrote poetry then, I had ways to work out my frustrations, and friends who seemed to like me for the me I was.
(I can't stop messing with my hand and arm, my fingers desperately searching for something to pick that's ready.)
And then I moved to college. On my own, no friends coming with me. And this is where I think I started to harm myself. I had never really learned how to deal with things. The only lessons I really remember from growing up is to always do what your parents (or elders/those in charge) say when they say it, to keep your mouth shut and smile, and make others happy. To let someone else make your decision, because if you don't choose fast enough then they'll do it for you anyways. And for a girl who's basic nature is already sweet and kind and quiet and passive, I didn't know how to handle life. My first few years I think I did alright, yet the longer I was there, the more I had to deal with, the more I was on my own, the more heartbreak I'd dealt with, and the more I started to pick. It was so gradual that I'm only now, 6 years out of college, realizing just what I was doing to myself. Sad, sad, sad.
I don't like the pain of a picked scab, by the way, or the blood that tends to come when the scab is picked off - that's not what makes me do it. The attraction for me is to have the scab off, to feel the smooth skin. I like it when the scabs are gone. It's like I feel it's the one thing I can fully control myself, the one thing I KNOW I can do right - because I can see when a scab is fully off, when the edges are smooth and it's done. I can't screw it up.
My major epiphany from last night - feeling vulnerable is the biggest trigger for my picking obsession. All my life I've been told that I'm wrong, that I'm selfish and irresponsible. Especially when it comes to cooking and being in the kitchen...it honestly terrifies me. I was never sure of myself, I always asked too many questions (and the same questions too many times) and took too long, was too soft, and as a result was constantly thrown out until I was never even asked to help anymore. What a lesson for a young girl to learn. And so when I start to feel vulnerable, when I start to notice just how out there I'm putting myself, the urge to pick at myself becomes ridiculously intense.
And I have gotten better at being vulnerable, at putting myself out there. My confidence in myself has definitely grown over the past few years. Yet it's still a struggle for me. I started to notice this yesterday...I pick at myself a lot when I'm processing photos. And believe me, deciding that you want to become a photographer and working to make it happen definitely makes you vulnerable. You're putting your vision, your work, your heart out into the world, and all you can do is hope that someone will like it. I pick at myself a lot when I'm opening up in a conversation, when I'm sharing a viewpoint that is opposite of the person I'm talking to. The more vulnerable I feel, the more exposed and open for pain, the more I pick at myself. To try to hurt myself before someone else can? To help me focus on a different pain so I can hear the actual response and not hear negativity? I don't know. But this is the key for me.
Sharing like this, forcing myself to be open and honest about a serious issue that I struggle with, has been driving my fingers and brain crazy with the urge to pick. The good news is, I'm getting better. I'm aware of the situation, which is a huge step. And I've been spending months trying to work through my insecurities, trying to be more comfortable simply being me and loving myself for who I am. And the better I get with that, the fewer scabs I tend to have, the more shallow they are when they do come. Someday I know I'll have it beat, at the very least have it much more under control.
Please remember - everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Not everyone's battle is immediately obvious. There are people who will struggle with something that makes no sense to you, that comes naturally to you. Please realize that simply because it's easy for you, doesn't mean it's easy for somebody else, and that doesn't mean you should talk down to them or make them feel like less of a person simply because they have a different struggle than you, or take longer to get a handle on it.
Love each other. Support each other, even when you don't understand why it's a problem. Listen to each other. Be encouraging. Tell the harsh truths when they're needed - just make sure you're telling them out of love, and make sure that love is known and felt. Don't judge.
I've fallen short of this many times, and it's something I'm trying to change about myself and to put out into the world. We need more love, more support, less judgement, less hatred.
I haven't shared all of this as a plea for attention. My scabs have always been pretty easy to see. It's simply a coping mechanism for dealing with my own feelings of vulnerability and invalidation. Anyone could have asked me about them any time they wanted to. Some people even have - though it was more about my physical beauty and the damage I'm doing to it than what the underlying cause might be. What I needed from this was the admission to myself, and the hopeful chance that maybe someone else who's struggling with this can identify and keep trying to get better. I KNOW THAT WE GET BETTER. Good things are coming my way, I'm growing stronger and more confident in myself and my abilities, and I know I have a wonderful life ahead of me. I'm on a good track. I simply have an easy, destructive distraction.
If anyone has any questions for me, any comments, let me know. If I can help clarify something, help support you, help encourage you in your personal struggles - please let me know. I want to be able to help and encourage others. And I know that this struggle I've got is a part of my life that will help enrich the way I see the world, can help me reach others and spread my message of love and joy.