Self-harm is very common and affects more people than you might think. This means it’s likely that at least two young people in every secondary school classroom have self-harmed at some time, so if you are self-harming, you are not alone – lots of information and support is available.
Self-harm isn’t a suicide attempt or a cry for attention. However, it can be a way for some people to cope with overwhelming and distressing thoughts or feelings. Self-harm should be taken seriously, whatever the reason behind it. It is possible to live without self-harm. It is important to know that you won’t always feel the way you do now. With the right help and support most people who self-harm can and do fully recover.
The self-harm cycle
Self-harm most frequently takes the form of cutting, burning or non-lethal overdoses, resulting to behavioral outbursts. It usually starts as a way to relieve the build-up of pressure from distressing thoughts and feelings, as a temporary relief from the emotional pain the person is feeling. It’s important to know that this relief is only temporary because the underlying reasons still remain. Soon after, feelings of guilt and shame might follow, which can continue the cycle.
Because there may be some temporary relief at the start, self-harm can become someone’s normal way of dealing with life’s difficulties. This means that it is important to talk to someone as early as possible to get the right support and help. Learning new coping strategies to deal with these difficulties can make it easier to break the cycle of self-harm in the long term.
While it is true that anyone can be affected by self-harm, some people are more likely to self-harm than others because of things that have happened in their lives – where they live, things that are happening with friends, family or at school, or a combination of these. This means that some people are more at risk of self-harm than others. Some factors that might make someone more at risk are:
- Experience of a mental health disorder. This might include depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders.
- Being a young person who is not under the care of their parents, or young people who have left a care home.
- Being part of the LGBT community.
- Having been bereaved by suicide
Some people can manage these troubles by talking to friends and family, while others may find these difficulties overwhelming. When we don’t express our emotions and talk about the things that make us distressed, angry or upset, the pressure can build up and become unbearable. Some people turn this in on themselves and use their bodies as a way to express the thoughts and feelings they can’t say aloud, hoping that the pain they inflict upon themselves will distract them from their mental pain and negate it.
There are lots of myths attached to self-harm. Negative stereotypes can be powerful enough to hurt someone who’s already hurting.
MYTH: ‘Self-harm is attention-seeking’
One of the most common stereotypes is that self-harm is about ‘attention seeking’. This is not the case. Many people find it difficult to talk to anyone about what they are going through for a long time and it can be very hard for them to find enough courage to ask for help, hence they find self arm the easiest way to let all the pain out.
MYTH: ‘Self-harm is a goth thing’
Self-harm has been stereotyped to be seen as part of youth subcultures such as “goth” or “emo”. There is no conclusive evidence of this with little or no evidence supporting the belief that self-harm is part of any particular young person subculture. A certain way someone dresses has no connection to one’s mental state. Dressing up all black with pierced and inked skin and dark eye makeup doesn’t mean you cannot be happy, or living in a rich or posh family doesn’t mean you can’t be hurting. Human mind works in different ways and stereotyping our upbringings doesn’t do justice to it.
MYTH: ‘Only girls self-harm’
It is often assumed that girls are more likely than boys to self-harm, but boys aren’t heartless. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if a boy is unable to express his feelings, they aren’t worth heard about and dealt with.
MYTH: ‘People who self-harm must enjoy it’
Some people believe that people who self-harm take pleasure in the pain or risk associated in the behavior. The term “harm” means pain. For some, being depressed has left them numb and they want to feel anything to remind them they are alive, even if it hurts, because sometimes emotions can be overwhelming enough to make you vulnerable to an extent that you choose harming yourself for the sake of feeling something instead of talking it out. Nobody would voluntarily want to hurt themselves in their normal state of mind.
MYTH: ‘People who self-harm are suicidal’
Self-harm is sometimes viewed as a suicide attempt by people who don’t understand it. For many people self-harms is about trying to cope with difficult feelings and circumstances. Some people have described it is a way of staying alive and surviving these difficulties, some look at it as punishment for the deeds they regret doing. However, some people who self-harm can feel suicidal and might attempt to take their own life.
People often link self-harm to suicide but for me it was something very different; it was my alternative to suicide, my way of coping even though sometimes I wished that my world would end.
Yes. Talking to someone is the first step to getting out of the cycle.
Telling someone about your self-harm shows strength and courage; it can often be a huge relief to be able to let go of such a secret, or at least share it.
One shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help whenever and however they need to. Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness, it shows that you are taking charge of your well-being and doing what you need to stay healthy. It isn’t always easy to express how you are feeling. Talking can be a way of coping with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Feeling listened to can help you feel more supported and knowing that you aren’t alone in this.
I’ve tried so many distraction techniques – from writing down my thoughts, hitting a pillow, listening to music, writing down pros and cons. But the most helpful to my recovery was the five minutes rule, where if you feel like you want to self-harm, you wait for five minutes before you do it, then see if you can go another five minutes, and so on till eventually the feeling that you need to is over.
Many people stop hurting themselves when the time is right for them. Everyone is different and if they feel the need to self-harm at the moment, they shouldn’t feel guilty about it – it is a way of surviving, and doing it now does NOT mean that they will need to do it forever. It is a huge step towards stopping when they begin to talk about it, because it means that they are starting to think about what might take its place eventually.