Saturday, 28 February 2015

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Misconceptions about self harm

As with many other issues related to mental health, there are a lot of misconceptions about self harm. There is a lot of stigma around self harm and unfortunately this means that people are unlikely to talk about it and therefore misconceptions are perpetuated. This post aims to shed some light on self harm and to bring down some common myths around it.

I am NOT trying to promote self-harm and I strongly encourage anyone who has considered it to not do it, and anyone who self harms to seek help. 
If you know someone who self harms, I hope this post helps you understand it better and not judge them. Offer them your help, not your judgment. Self harm is a very serious issue.

·"People who self-harm are trying to kill themselves" 

Self harm doesn't equal attempted suicide. Most people who self harm are not trying to kill themselved but instead use self harm as a coping mechanism

·"People who self harm are suicidal" 

This is not always true. It may be in some cases but a lot of those who self harm don't have any sort of suicidal ideation in mind. They could be self harming for a lot of different reasons and you should be concerned. If they are self harming they're probably having mental health problems and could be dealing with depression, anxiety or some other issues. Even if they are not currently suicidal, if they don't get help, the problem leading to self harm could get worse and the shame and guilt that usually accompany self harm could make the situation worse, potentially making them have suicidal thoughts in the future

·"People who self harm are trying to get attention" 

Most people who self harm actually hide their wounds and don't show them to anyone. If a person recurs to self harm for whatever reason, they should get help and you shouldn't try to judge or analyse their motives.

·"You don't have to worry about someone's self harm unless it's serious injuries" 

You have to worry about someone's self harm no matter how serious, deep or shallow their injuries are. If they are self harming they need help. Of course, if the injuries are more serious there is a risk of parasuicide, the person could accidentally die even if it's not their intention from the seriousness of the wounds. However, someone whose injuries seem less serious could potentially have more suicidal thoughts than people whose self harm is deeper. There are many different reasons why someone would choose to inflict less serious wounds but that doesn't mean that the problem is less serious.

·"Self harm = cutting" 

There are many more ways in which someone can harm themselves and they are all equally serious. I'm not going to name any so that I don't give any ideas to people who self harm but anything that someone does to their body with the intention of harming themselves can be considered self harm.

·"Scratching doesn't count as self harm" 

Look at my previous point. Scratching can be self harm and does not have to be overlooked.

·"Showing your scars means that you're seeking attention" 

I'm sorry but no. I'll post something about this in the future but showing your scars doesn't mean that you want attention. Not even showing your wounds has to mean this. But with scars there's not even controversy around it. You should feel comfortable in your own body and if you do have scars and you show them, that means courage, that means that you're getting comfortable with your body as it is. Do not be ashamed of your scars. And do not shame people about their scars. Scars, even if they're not self-inflicted can be a tough thing to get used to showing. Feel comfortable in your own skin.

·"You can stop self harming any time you want" 

Unfortunately this is completely false. Yes, you can take steps towards stopping your self harm and I'm not saying that you'll never be able to stop: you will. But it's not an easy thing to do. There is a physical and a psychological explanation for this. The physical one is that pain and pleasure are separated by a very thin line. By self harming you release endorphins and your brain actually becomes addicted to this. The psychological reason is that if you're feeling bad for some reason and you recur to self  harm and it makes you feel better (for whatever reason) and you have trouble dealing with those problematic feelings, then when you feel them again you know that self harm once made you feel better and you'll recur to it more easily. What starts being whenever something huge happens ends up becoming your go-to mechanism any time you're not feeling particularly well. That's why quitting self harm is so difficult.Relapses are normal in the process to recovery and you mustn't let them bring your hopes down. It is possible to stop self harming.

·"People who self harm are just emo/flaunting their cuts"

Let's stop right there. Flaunting their cuts? I have indeed met some people who were proud of their wounds and would show them around as if it were something to be proud of, and I've always felt a certain disgust towards this behavior. I personally was extremely ashamed of my self harm that I was always particularly careful to hide it. Like me, so many people hide their wounds. There are so many people ashamed, embarrassed who won't show their wounds. A lot more than of those who show them.

·"People self harm because they want to" 

Riiiiiight. Not really. I mean, you're sort of right but not really. Because of what I have explained earlier about it becoming sort of addictive, a lot of the times people don't really want to stop self harming because it actually makes them feel better so they think: why stop? I keep seeing it as a drug. A drug user might want to stop doing drugs but then again a part of themselves might not really want to. I don't know anyone who likes to self harm. Most people experience feelings of shame, self-hatred, embarrassment or guilt after self harming. However a part of them doesn't want to stop doing the only thing they have found so far that helps them feel better. That's why it is so important to get professional help. Don't try to deal with someone's self harm all by yourself. They need help and they need treatment.

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