in this post I talk openly about self-harming, if you think it might be triggering for you I advise you not to read it. Take care of yourself first. Also I am not a health-care professional, I mainly speak about this from experience and I am in no position to help anyone. If you do need help you can contact mind or go to your GP.
I have talked about the subject before but in a vague and general way, I think I even resorted to complicated metaphors, I did so because I was afraid of being judged. I am still afraid but also find it important to talk about this, so that others might be a little less afraid to let someone know and be a lot less alone in the struggle.
Cutting and the rest
Cutting is the best known and most used method of self-harm but certainly not the only one. Burning, biting, hair-pulling, hitting, breaking of bones, self-poisoning, abusing alcohol or drugs and in-bedding objects in the skin are also not unheard of. The only limit to the methods used is the persons inventiveness and determination. There is no safe way to self-harm, every injury to once body has risks, especially when done repeatedly, what is often the case with self-harm.
My method of choice was cutting but also picking open old wounds and pulling lose bits of skin are very known to me. I managed to stop cutting but the others I haven’t stopped yet. They are far older habits (I also did it as a child) and especially my hands are rarely completely wound-free. I use to consider it to be just a nervous habit of mine rather then doing harm.
seen and unseen
Many who self-harm choose to hide it from everyone, I also did/do so because I’m afraid of being judged and ashamed. I think the shame is mostly there because I am aware of that its not something that is accepted by society, it’s considered a bad thing that one shouldn’t do. I am also hiding because I don’t want to upset people, so I hide more with those who are close to me then with strangers. I think partly because a lot are hiding in shame that we misinterpreter those who are not as attention seekers and not in need of help and support, I think that is wrong. And even if someone uses self-harm as a way to get attention or just to let others know that they are not okay, then they also need help. They need to be learn new and more positive ways to get someone’s attention and help. Self-harm is always to be taken seriously.
Why don’t you just stop ?
self-harm isn’t the disease, its a symptom. There are many different underlying causes of self-harm, there are as many reasons to self-harm then there are people. For me it is that because of my autism I didn’t have enough skills to deal with how I felt and what I felt was depression and extreme anxiety at times. Its a way of coping with whatever is going on at the moment that you can’t deal with in another way, and that is also the reason why just stopping isn’t a solution. If you take the way to cope with the problem but not the problem itself then that can really worsen the situation instead of improving it. I understand that if you care for someone that you don’t what them to be hurt but the reality is that without the option to get some relieve they are hurting far worse.
Another reason why “just stopping”isn’t as easy as it seems is because self-harm is psychically and mentally addictive. When you get harmed the body response by producing endorphins , they cause your mood to lift and works as a painkiller. You can get addicted of endorpins like any other drug, that will make stopping that much harder. I may have laid my blades down for the time being (hopefully for good) but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it any more or struggle with it. every time I get into distress its the first thought that comes to my mind, every time I fear losing control I struggle. and just like any other addiction you can slip and fall back into old habits and start again from day one. I have stopped cutting many times before and found it impossible to do without help. I am still seeing someone to make sure its really something that I use to do and maybe I can someday be completely free from it.
Who does something like that? You’d have to be crazy!
No, you don’t have to be crazy just in distress. As to who does that, well it can happen to anyone, everyone can get into a situation where there is to be no other way of dealing with. It aren’t just teenagers that do it, even tho many start doing it when they are teenagers a lot of them grow up and become adults that self-harm. Someone also can start when they are an adult, it depends on when you meet that situation that is just too much. There are mental illnesses and other disorders that make you more likely to self-harm, this doesn’t make a person crazy, in fact lets never use the term crazy again, its unkind and putting people who genuinely suffer from an illness down. A disorder that is often associated with self-harm is borderline personality disorder (BPD) and even tho a lot of people with BPD do self-harm it doesn’t mean that everyone that self-harms has BPD. Most (if not all) mental illnesses make you more likely to self-harm because it effects how you feel and think, tho not everyone with an mental illness will self-harm and not everyone who self-harms has a mental illness or disorder. Next to crazy there lays dangerous, equally a wrong term to use when you talk about people that self-harm, just because we hurt ourself doesn’t mean we will hurt anyone else. People who self-harm are not weak or fragile, crazy or dangerous, we are survivors.
a often heard myth is that people who self-harm are trying to kill themselves, this is most of the time not the case. As I said before self-harming is a way of coping and one will only resort to suicide when there is no way to cope left. It can be that a person that self-hams also gets suicidal, like I did. But others might self-harm without ever getting suicidal. Many self-harm not because they want to die but because they want to live.
Do’s and don’t-you-dare’s
don’t be judgmental, this is very important when you are either talking to someone that self-harms or when you do it yourself. I find it not that difficult to be non-judgmental to others but most of the time don’t extent that courtesy to myself. Even when you completely understand why you are doing it its hard not to feel angry and disappointed with yourself. Those feelings are natural but not very helpful, it can become an endless loop of feeling badly and self-harming to feel better.
Do talk about it, its a very difficult thing to talk about, especially when you are doing it. There are a lot of fears involved and I’ve had them all, fear of being judged, fear of not being understood, fear that the person you talk to freaks out. Trust me I know how difficult talking can be and I feel slightly hypocritical for advocating it. But I also know how lonely it can be if no one knows. I am not saying tell anyone or worse everyone, no I say tell someone. Pick someone that you trust, where you feel comfortable with and let them know. If talking to someone face to face is too hard, then you can write a letter, scribble a note. Make it as easy for yourself as possible because its a hard enough thing to do anyway. For those under 18 I do advise you to tell an adult, these can help you or direct you to help better then your peers. It can also be easier to talk to a therapist or doctor about it because they aren’t that close to you and you don’t have to worry about upsetting them. When you suspect someone is self-harming, it is okay to try to talk about it, let them know you won’t judge them and you want to help, it can help someone to know that its okay to talk about this with you. I do think its important to consider first what your relationship is to that person, for example when a complete stranger would walk to me and starts with hey I noticed your scars and…..my response would probably be somewhere on the line of get lost. This is a very sensitive subject where you can’t and won’t talk to about with anyone no matter how well intended. I am also not in favor for pushing someone to talk about it, if they don’t want to talk to you about it leave it.
Don’t forbid it , especially when it comes to children and teens it’s tempting to forbid them to self-harm because you don’t want them harmed but as I indicated earlier this isn’t helpful. Neither is punishing someone for self-harming, that will only make them feel worse about it, what increases the chance of it happening again. And it could also just make them hide more and then they are alone with this problem again.
These are for me the most important points when talking about this subject but if you have anything to add or want to say that you experience things another way please feel free to let me and the rest know through comments. Also questions are welcome and I will try to answer them all (and if I am not able or uncomfortable to answer I will let that know) I am monitoring the comments but unless what you say is harmful I will accept it.