Thoughts and Observations
Thoughts about self-harm
There are many ways we might harm or damage ourselves, perhaps through accident or carelessness, perhaps through smoking or drinking too much or perhaps just working or playing too hard.
The pressures of living and coping can sometimes prevent us from seeing or acknowledging the harm that we are doing to ourselves and those around us. For some, it might be a gradual or even sudden moment of realisation that provides the impetus for change, the motivation to do something about it. The trigger may be a health-scare or a growing relationship problem, it may be from comments by friends or relatives; whichever it is, it is often enough for us to do something about it. However, while our behaviour may have been harmful, it is not self-harm.
Self-harm involves far more intentional action; often called deliberate self-injury, self-harm involves cutting, burning, scalding, hitting, purging, poisoning and many more. The word deliberate is often used but, just for a moment, I’d like to consider one of the word’s definitions; to consider thoughtfully and carefully. How does that fit with someone who feels so overwhelmed by what is going on in their mind or in their life that their only way to cope with it is to cause themselves real pain and risk serious harm?
What is most important here is understanding that self-harm makes sense in that it can help someone manage those thoughts and feelings that have escalated to a level that cannot be controlled by any other means at that moment in time.
There are many theories about why people self-harm yet it has to be acknowledged, people have been doing it in one form or another for thousands of years for a great variety of personal, cultural or spiritual reasons. Self-harm always has a reason and it is not often about wishing to die; more often than not it is about staying alive, about feeling alive. While accidental and intentional suicide is at an increased risk among many people who self-harm, there are also many who have self-harmed for years and have kept themselves safe, often keeping their self-harm a secret because of what they may have heard or experienced from the attitudes of both the general public and from those professionals who are meant to be there to help them;
”Over and over again, the young people we heard from told us that their experiences of asking for help often made their situation worse. Many of them have met with ridicule or hostility from the professionals they have turned to.” - Camelot Foundation & Mental Health Foundation, the truth about self-harm, 2006
However, recognition of the damage that the wrong approach has done in the past, and can still do in the present, along with far more research and a better understanding of the causes and thinking behind self-harm, is now hopefully creating more helpful and caring responses by health professionals. More importantly, it is about helping those who self-harm to challenge the inappropriate actions – or reactions – of professionals who lack a full understanding of self-harm.
While I have both the training and experience to hopefully provide effective therapeutic help for people who self-harm, this is also about helping people to manage their self-harming behaviour more safely before perhaps finding a way to end the need.
As such, a useful starting point may be to look up The National Self-harm Network who provide detailed information and advice for individuals, families and professionals.