Self harm put simply is any action one takes to cause deliberate harm to oneself. It is estimated that 3.8% of the population self harm (Time to Change, 2018.)
Ways of self-harming can include:
over-eating or under-eating
picking or scratching at your skin
burning your skin
inserting objects into your body
hitting yourself or walls
pulling your hair
getting into fights where you know you will get hurt
Misusing alcohol or drugs
The reasons why someone self harms can be complex and won't be the same for everyone. It's often thought that people self harm in order to end their life but this isn't usually the case. Another common misconception is that people who hurt themselves are attention seeking. Conversely, and much less often talked about; some people will self harm because they know someone will notice and take care of them or, the thought process might look something like this "If I hurt myself I can allow myself to take care of me" I'm not saying that everyone that harms themselves does it to seek attention but it is possible. It isn't spoken about because there is a huge stigma around 'attention seeking' behavior. If an individual cannot verbalize what they are feeling it may just be that they use the only way they know. It might be that feelings are forbidden and self harm can create a feeling of numbness.
Self harm can be about releasing pressure. A way of dealing with external or internal pressure such as:
Social problems eg: bullying, difficult relationships with friends or family, coping with cultural expectations.
Trauma: Such as Death of a family member of friend
Psychological causes: Losing touch with who they are or their surroundings (dissociation or depersonalisation)
"Some people find that certain actions, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs, increase the likelihood of self-harm, or that self-harm is more likely to happen at certain times (at night, for example)." (Mind, October 2016)
People who self harm often try and hide it for fear of shame or discovery. If you believe someone you care about is self harming, approach the subject carefully, in a supportive way. Language (and body language) is key here. Don't panic. Remember it's taken courage for your loved one to open up to you, if they have. If you've discovered it, the person is likely to be feeling a lot of shame. They may be anxious or embarrassed, or both. If your loved one wants to talk, listen. If they aren't ready, don't push too hard but let them know you are there if they do want you. Remember to look after yourself too, you can't pour from an empty cup! Support is there for you too. Hearing a loved one is in so much pain they hurt themselves, is heartbreaking. It is not your fault.
Self harm can be difficult to talk about but if this effects you then remember you can stop. Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 (It's free and won't show up on your phone bill.) Whilst I don't encourage self harm, I'm not here to force you to stop but I'm certainly going to encourage you to stay safe.
Go back around 10 years, and GP's and mental health professionals would suggest alternatives to self harm - involving rubber bands and ice cubes but these were distraction techniques and didn't actually address the underlying feelings causing the individual to engage in self injury. I would now suggest moving your focus, wash up, take a bath, go for a walk, something to discharge the emotion in a more constructive way. The old methods of punching a pillow or smashing plates doesn't change the emotion instead, it gives fuel to the negative emotion making it more likely that a person will go on to self harm.
Renee Fabian a 'talkspace' contributor says 'cathartic behaviors meant to release anger such as punching pillows, ripping newspapers or throwing ice against a wall do not serve their intended purpose to discharge negative energy, but rather aggravate a person further.'
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MIND Why do people harm themselves? [online] London Mind October 2016, [Accessed 27th May] Available from: <https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/why-people-self-harm/#.Wwrj2kgvw2w>
RENEE FABIAN It's Time To Retire These Self - Harm Alternatives [Online] New York Talkspace June 9, 2017 [Accessed 27th May 2018] Available from: <https://www.talkspace.com/blog/2017/06/time-retire-self-harm-alternatives/>
TIME TO CHANGE Self Harm [Online] London, Time to Change, 2018, [Accessed 27th May 2018] Available from: <https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-mental-health/types-problems/self-harm>