The powerful brilliance behind self-harm

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I believe people who self-harm have special super powers and not enough people are talking about it.

This may be tooting my own horn a little, since self-harm has been my go-to coping mechanism for a decade now, but I can’t think of a better way to say it: we have super powers.

To be clear, though, I don’t encourage self-harm for anyone. I don’t encourage you to start and I don’t encourage you to continue doing it. Not because its yucky or leaves marks or whatever other generic reasons there are, but because you have an incredible (seriously, INCREDIBLE) super power that, if redirected, can not only change your life, but the lives of everyone around you in a unique way.

Even if you don’t feel a desire to redirect your superpowers away from self-harm just yet, keep reading, because you deserve to hear how your self-harming tendency is actually clear, concrete evidence for how badass you are.

It took me years to fight my way out of habitual self-harm. Now it is time to share what I’ve learned and bring respect and dignity to everyone who has ever practiced it.

A Quick, Non-Cheesy Overview of Self-Harm

This conversation is going to go so much better if we start off on the same page about what self-harming is and why people do it.

When I refer to self-harm in this article, I am mainly talking about self-injury (cutting, burning, bruising, hair pulling, etc). While self-injury is the main focus of this article, other varieties of self-harm, such as eating disorders, are also applicable in their own way.

A variety of myths surrounding self-harm are debunked quite well on this website, but in a nutshell:

  • Self-harm is usually a coping mechanism used to survive – not die. Some of us who self-harm aren’t actually suicidal. But even if we are, most of us would prefer not to be suicidal, hence the coping mechanism.
  • There are a wide variety of reasons people self-harm. If you’re not the person self-harming, don’t assume you know.
  • For many of us, self-harm becomes and addiction. We can’t always stop cold turkey, even if we’d like to.
  • Some people who self-harm are seeking attention, most aren’t. Whether people self-harm to seek attention or want to keep it private is totally irrelevant because both desires share equal emotional distress but come from different inner strengths. People seeking attention from their self-harm come from a place of knowing they need help and appreciating the importance of community, key traits that people who want to keep it private don’t usually develop as fully. People wanting to keep their self-harm private come from a place of inner strength and/or not wanting to be a burden to other people, key traits that people seeking attention don’t always develop. Both types of people still have emotional distress they are feeling that shouldn’t be discounted based on the set of inner skills they are working from.
  • Some people don’t create injuries deep enough to make permanent marks and some people create injuries deep enough to need stitches. One isn’t better than the other or proves that someone is hurting more than the other. It just shows people have different sensitivities for physical and emotional pain.

People Who Self-Harm are Brilliant

I’ve been there. I see you. I think you have an incredible super power that can change lives.

It is easy to get down on ourselves about why we do what we do. We could get all deep and muddled in trying to understand the negative reasons for our self-harm and lack of healthy coping skills and what is wrong with us. While there is a time and place for this self-reflection, I’m guessing you do enough of it on your own.

Plus, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you. I actually think you’re brilliant. Because there are some seriously positive side effects from self-harm that your brilliant mind recognizes and you are reaping the benefits from.

Here are some of the positive effects that I experienced as a result of self-harm. Are you reaping any of these benefits, too?

  • Clarity about situations that were emotionally overwhelming for me
  • Resolve and resiliency to face another day (or sometimes another minute)
  • Proof there was something extremely overwhelming in my life – I wasn’t just being a baby or making this shit up
  • It felt exhilarating to have a secret to hide
  • It also felt good to have attention from people once I was “found out”
  • Transferred my emotional pain into a much more manageable physical pain
  • Made my outsides look like my insides – a powerful act of wearing my heart on my sleeve (or thighs)
  • Helped me feel a sense of control over my emotions, my body, and my life
  • I secretly felt like a total badass to be a part of the self-harm community
  • A perfect way to escape my overwhelming emotions and circumstances

After making your own mental list of benefits, can you finally admit that you’re brilliant?

But what about all the bad things?–We’ll talk about the bad things in a second. But right now, I challenge you to go through the list of positive benefits you are reaping from self-harm and NOT see how perfectly your brilliant mind is getting you through life.

Can you see it?

Mkay. Now. Hold on to that. That feeling of recognizing your brilliance is your starting point for the rest of this article. There are only a handful of paragraphs left. I promise you won’t explode if you believe you are brilliant for ten more minutes.

That little part of you that asked, “But what about all the bad things about self-harm?” is also your brilliant mind at work because you know you are selling yourself short somehow. Indeed, selling yourself short when you’ve only got one life is perhaps the biggest negative side effect of self-harm. But you already know this. The most brilliant part of all your brilliant parts is what already knows this.

So don’t let go of that feeling of your brilliance. Just accept the negative side effects for what they are, and thank your brilliant mind for allowing you to realize them.

Even if you’ve given up all hope on ever living a whole and happy life, just as I once did, I can tell you with full certainty that it is not too late. Even for you. Because you’ve got a mothafuckin’ super power.

Drum roll please……

Self-Harm is Concrete Evidence for This Super Power

On top of all your brilliance, you also have a super power: the ability to take something painful and transform it into something useful.

I have a super power: the ability to take something painful and transform it into something useful. Click To Tweet

When we self-harm, we aren’t escaping the pain entirely. We are actually transforming emotional pain into physical pain and then transforming the physical pain into something useful (e.g. resolve, sense of control, exhilaration, proof there is something wrong, a mechanism to ask for help, etc).

If you’re thinking “so what” about this super power – think again. This super power is what life is all about. Taking lemons and making lemonade. Taking the shit life flings our way and using it as fertilizer for our personal growth.

The ability to transform pain into something beneficial is an incredible super power that sadly, not everybody has. At least, not like you and me.

I’m not saying people who don’t self-harm don’t have this super power. There are many lucky bastards out there who took advantage of this super power instead of selling themselves short with it. But what I am saying is that everyone who self-harms, and I mean everyone, has this super power. Because the very act of self-harm requires us to use this ability.

Now, can we go back to the whole “selling yourself short when you’ve only got one life to live” thing? Let’s address this now that you’re armed with your brilliance AND your super power. While there are beneficial aspects of self-harm (otherwise your brilliant self wouldn’t be doing it!), the benefits are shallow.

Here are a few examples of what I mean by “shallow”:

  • I was able to transfer my emotional pain into a physical pain I could control and manage but I never learned that trying to control and manage life will only bring more emotional pain.
  • Sure, I found the strength to live another day, but I lived those days in a void of darkness, numbness and negativity.
  • It felt exhilarating to have a secret and I felt cared for when I was “found out” but I was never able to feel exhilarated from anything positive and was never able to feel truly cared for when there was a secret I was hiding.
  • It was proof there was something wrong and a mechanism to ask for help but I never learned how to express what is wrong or ask for help in healthier ways.
  • It was a way to punish myself but never redeem myself.
  • I felt like a badass to be a part of a community full of other badasses (and still do!) but I alienated myself from so many other just as awesome communities.
  • The resolve and clarity I received was based on the meaningless of everything instead of the meaningfulness of everything.

You are brilliant enough to know that these things are true. If the shallow benefits of self-harming are still worth it to you, I encourage you to take your knowledge of your brilliance and super power with you back to your darkness. Peace be with you and I truly hope that Hope will find you (rather, realize Hope has already found you).

For me, once I realized my brilliance and super power and the shallow benefits I received when I self-harmed, something powerful changed in my gut. I just couldn’t ignore that there was a better way any longer. And I owed it to myself to at least give it a try.

The “Better Way”

Cut out the middle man and use your super power to its full potential.

Remember when I said how, when we self-harm, we are actually transforming emotional pain into physical pain and then transforming the physical pain into something useful?

Where self-harm really takes a detour is in the middle man: physical pain. The physical pain distorts the useful benefit our brilliant selves are desiring. The physical pain is what gives clarity from meaninglessness, community from alienation, strength from numbness, and everything else I listed in the shallow examples above. (I’ve got a theory for why physical pain twists everything. If you’re interested, email me.)

The trick of the “better way” is to take the emotional pain, as raw and scary and overwhelming as it is, and let our inherent super power transform that pain into something useful.

Yes, the “better way” requires you to face your scary emotions head on and fumble your way through to the other side, which is a place you often can’t see when you begin.

This doesn’t just sound scary – it is scary. It is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, actually.

Which is why I don’t recommend you start trying this alone. Plus, you owe it to yourself to give this a fair shot and do what you can to set yourself up for the best possible outcome, which includes taking advantage of your outside support system. Sorry not sorry.

So, step one is to tell as many safe people you can possibly tell about what has been going on and where you’d like to go. Someone safe could mean your friend, partner, therapist (strongly recommend if you find a good one), parents, teacher, or someone part of an online organization such as TalkSpace, Breakthrough, and 7 Cups of Tea (free service).

Step two is open ended and will continue happening until you die: Face your emotional pain and use your super power to transform that into something good.

Facing your emotional pain looks different for everybody. It could look like therapy, talking with a friend, saying sorry, forgiving someone, boundary setting, leaving toxic relationships, meditation, or a whole host of other unique possibilities tailored to you. The possibilities are truly endless – but what “facing your emotions” looks like to you is not going to be the hardest part of your journey.

The hardest part is going to be NOT self-harming and NOT using your super power to transform your emotional pain into another type of pain you’re more used to dealing with.

But hold tight, because you already have the brilliance and keen super power needed to harness the energy of your emotional pain directly and transform it into something far more useful than your physical pain could ever produce for you.

Keep in mind that when you’re in the thick of your emotional pain and have no idea what is up or down or where you should go or where you are, that’s not your fault. That’s just the nature of how your super power works at its healthiest. It is a slow and confusing but also powerful and long-lasting process.

As self-harmers, we’re so used to forcing the useful thing to happen immediately. We can control when we use our super power and for how long. But when we do it this way, the useful things become horribly twisted and tragically temporary.

The useful things that are wise, true, and pure take time to develop. There will be times when it doesn’t seem like your super power is working, but trust me, it is working. You’ve already proven you have it in you. It is inherent. Just let it happen and keep holding on to your brilliance. Keep soliciting help from your safe people (and keep giving them grace when they are annoying sometimes).

The key to this process is holding on to your brilliance. Darkness will try to twist it into something negative. It just will. So bookmark this article to go back to whenever you need a reminder. Because this is the truth about who you are and will always be here when you need a wake up call.

One request from you: if this article was of any help to you at all, please share it. It is everything I wish I would have been told when I was in the middle of my darkness and harming myself regularly and I wish someone had shared something like this with me when all I could see was blackness.

Phew! I realize this is a lot to take in. But I’ve got just one last remark that is meant directly for you:

I see you. You are brilliant. You have a superpower that can change lives. So let it.

I see you. You are brilliant. You have a superpower that can change lives. So let it. Click To Tweet

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1 Comment

  1. Wow really, really insightful.

    I appreciate everything that’s in this post and how powerful it is! Thank you.

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