Self-Harm Thoughts vs Actions: Making Peace with the Urge
Sometimes the scariest thing about self-harm thoughts is just knowing our brains are capable of having such dark thoughts. It is not always obvious at the time, but looking back at and reflecting on those moments, especially if your struggle with self-harm is a thing of the distant past, it can feel strange to recount all the thoughts you had before, during, and after engaging in self-harm. Because of the intense physicality of self-harm, it is easy to overemphasize the literal action of self-harm when in reality it is the self-harm thoughts surrounding the action, not the action itself, that hold real power over us.
Drawing Boundaries Between Self-Harm Thoughts and Actions
Knowing how to distinguish self-harm thoughts from actions helps put much-needed distance between the urge to self-harm and the act of self-harm. Often, self-harm is not a pre-meditated, calculated act. It is usually more spur-of-the-moment, provoked by triggers we may not even be aware of.
In other words, self-harm happens when we choose to act on the urge that precedes it.
While this may seem like an obvious statement, seeing it articulated and written out helps us see the relationship between the thought to self-harm and the act of self-harm: namely, that the relationship need not even exist at all.
There is no rule dictating that the urge to self-harm should necessarily lead to the act of self-harm.
Learning to Accept Our Self-Harm Thoughts and Urges
If there is no rule dictating that the urge or thought of self-harm should necessarily lead to the act of self-harm, it follows that the urge to self-harm can exist independent of the act. You can feel the urge. You can either hold onto it or let it pass. But neither is a step preceding a next step.
Learning to live with our self-harm thoughts and acknowledging them as thoughts and nothing more takes practice. Our thoughts are not a reflection of us. Our thoughts are not a reflection of the reality around us. No matter how dark, how intense, how visceral, or how loud, our thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts do not have to translate into action.
We are not responsible for the first thought we have, but we are responsible for what we do with the thought afterward.
The urge to self-harm can be so strong that it feels as though we have no choice but to act on it. Sometimes it seems that everything inside of us is screaming at us act on it. Other times it feels as if we have trained ourselves to react on auto-pilot, detecting the urge and proceeding almost reflexively to action.
Breaking ourselves out of this habit is not easy. It takes a lot of discipline to develop this sort of self-awareness, but just knowing that it is possible -- that we can co-exist with our self-harm thoughts and urges (if not always comfortably) -- can give us enough strength to keep trying.
Chang, K. (2018, December 19). Self-Harm Thoughts vs Actions: Making Peace with the Urge, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2018/12/self-harm-thoughts-vs-actions-making-peace-with-the-urge
Author: Kayla Chang
This entire read is so wisely, and insightfully worded. There are two key points made that really stood out to me and I applaud you for highlighting them. First, "There is no rule dictating that the urge to self-harm should necessarily lead to the act of self-harm." and secondly, "We are not responsible for the first thought we have, but we are responsible for what we do with the thought afterward. "
These are such important concepts for us to remember. So often we can get caught up in thoughts, and unnecessarily berate ourselves, but we are human and sometimes those kinds of thoughts will arise. To harp on ourselves for having them isn't helpful. To show ourselves kind, gentle action, is. Thank you for sharing.