This post may potentially be triggering, so please don’t follow the jump if you feel at all vulnerable.
This post is ever so slightly late. Yesterday was National Self-harm (SH) awareness day, so I thought I’d blog about the issue quickly. I would have done so actually on March 1st, but a real ale brewing social just seemed like something I shouldn’t actually miss (especially when I’d not seen any of them in an age). I know, sheer lack of dedication.
SH is something I’ve struggled with for over a decade now. I’m only 21, so that means I started at an incredibly young age (or at least, it feels that way to me). It’s also something that 1 in 12 young people will do at some stage, which is staggeringly high for a problem no one likes to talk about.
In order for this to change, people need to be more aware. Aware of what SH is, why people do it, and how best to help someone who’s doing it. For that reason, in this post, I’m going to give a very basic outline for each of these areas.
What is SH
Obviously, the first thing everyone thinks of is cutting, which is for a good reason. This simply is not the only form of SH that exists however. I compulsively damage my own skin, leaving scars that most people do not recognise as SH at all. It can also take the form of hitting yourself, burning, restricting food intake, scratching, not allowing wounds to heal and so on.
Self harm is very rarely, if ever an attempt on a person’s own life. Suicidal behaviour and SH are separate. SH is a method of coping, albeit a highly flawed method.
The most important thing about SH is that it is the external manifestation of someone’s internal pain.
Why would anyone SH
This is a fairly reasonable question- why would someone already in pain cause themselves more pain? For some, it’s self-punishment for feeling so awful. For others, it’s giving their feelings a tangible basis. Cardiff Mental Wealth had a speaker from Body Gossip yesterday, who explained that SH is used to cut off an intense emotion. This works (perhaps partially through the release of endorphins). Over time, this leads to feeling that the only way to end a feeling is to SH, however the effect decreases each time. People also tend to SH sooner, and feel guilty for having to SH. This results in more frequent harming.
How do I help someone who is SHing
It is perhaps simplest to start with what you should not do.
Never, ever tell the person that if they harm you will too. This only serves to increase the guilt the person feels for SHing, and yes, this will only exacerbate the problem. Understand that SH is how they cope with overwhelming negative emotion, and you will see how this can not help them.
Do not focus more on what they are doing, rather than why. Obviously, seeing a person you care about with injuries is intensely painful. Believe me, I’ve been on both sides of this and I know. It is just simply not helpful to focus on ending that behaviour and not the emotions or underlying issues causing it.
Let the person know that you are willing to talk when and if they ever need to. Do not force the issue, for many people talking about SH is extremely difficult. This is especially the case when they are struggling the most, frustratingly enough.
Support them on small milestones. Offer hugs, love, and late night ice cream. Treat them like the friend, child, partner you always had. Understand that they are hurting, and that you did not cause this hurt. Encourage them to believe that one day, they can live life without relying on this coping mechanism.