Sunday, January 15, 2023

Self Harm: The one thing I never talk about

Iv always stayed away from the subject of self harm because I’m worried about triggering people and also because I guess it feels that little bit TOO vulnerable/personal, though I am happy to talk about most of my shit. 

If you’ve seen my ‘mental health myths and misconceptions’ post, you’ll know that self-harm can take various forms. I mean, it’s in the name essentially in that it is referring to causing harm to oneself. What form of self-harm an individual utilses depends on the individual but I’d say there may also be influences such as culture, societal norms and accessibility; yet, I imagine that the majority of people would attribute self harm to cutting oneself, so let’s talk about that one.

There’s a certain level of shame that comes with cutting yourself- I’m not sure whether this shame is generated internally or societally and put onto you but what I am sure of is how unhelpful it is. I find shame to generally be one of the most unhelpful feelings as it causes this dark pit of self-loathing and self judgement to develop within you. And what’s the best way to deal with these feelings when you’re a self-harmer? To harm yourself more! And so the cycle continues… What I’m also positive of is how upsetting and sometimes frankly infuriating it is hearing other people make jokes about slitting their wrists in reference to an average problem, when they have never had to consider the concept of actually tearing their skin open with a blade just to cope with the emotional turmoil that they’re feeling; or just to feel something, anything. 

The shame of engaging in the behaviour is one thing but then you have to manage the shame of the scars/ wounds for the foreseeable future, God forbid someone notice them and ask “what happened to your arm?”. And let me tell you right now bio oil does fuck all so save your money. At this stage in my life I have no problem explaining that I unfortunately used to struggle to manage my overwhelming emotions but I remember as a teen, being exposed as a cutter was my idea of hell. 

Now I know many people believe that self-harm is a form of attention seeking, and I’m not necessarily going to disagree with this, though I will describe why the belief is misguided. To begin with, many self harmers (such as my past self) go to extreme and thorough lengths to hide the evidence. This being said, I have worked in environments where it definitely was not a secret and young people would display their self harm outwardly. I attribute this to the fact it was a safe environment with mental health professionals around such as myself and I always got the sense that these young people displayed their wounds as a non-verbal way of communicating “help me, I am in pain”. This is why I do not disagree with the term ‘attention seeking’, as in a sense yes, the individual may in fact be seeking attention. But don’t we all need attention? And don’t some of us need extra attention, support and care based on the fact that we may not be OK internally. The same way we seek the help of doctors and nurses when physically unwell - would you consider it shameful to seek attention if you had the flu? I urge anyone who holds the belief that self harm is merely attention ’seeking’ to modify that term to attention needing.  

I’ve also heard many assume that cutting is a behaviour teens copy from one another, perhaps in an effort to compete for the aforementioned attention. I of course can’t speak for everyone but I can remember my first time so vividly and I can truly say I still have absolutely no idea where the idea came from; in that moment, all I needed was to release the pain that I was feeling and it was the only way I could think to do it. 

Looking back on my journey, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and the progress I’ve made to manage emotional distress with healthier things such as exercise, journalling, therapy, music etc however, I will say that the urge to hurt yourself as a knee jerk reaction doesn’t immediately go away as you heal, and that’s ok. It get’s easier and easier to resist. My scars no longer cause me any shame and though I have covered them with a tattoo it is more symbolic of the journey of growth out of this phase of my life. For anyone else struggling with self-harm, know that there is hope for recovery. You are not alone in this journey. 

Useful coping skills (in my experience) 

  • Exercise/ MOVEMENT 
  • Change environment 
  • Calling friends/ loved ones 
  • Soothing music 
  • Writing/ journaling feelings 
  • Hot or cold showers 
  • Deep breathing (+5 points if in nature) 

There are resources available for anyone who is struggling with self-harm. Here are some helpful links for further support


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