‘Self’ and ‘harm’ – the two contradictory words do not seem to fit together. Why would someone want to harm themselves when everyone is trying to struggle through life only to afford a better living, a peaceful existence and constantly working to stay alive?
Understanding self harm:
What is self harm?
Self-harm, or self-mutilation describes any behaviour of deliberately inflicting pain and damage to your own body. It most frequently takes the form of cutting, scratching, punching, pricking, biting, stabbing, burning or non-lethal overdoses. It also encompasses consciously taken actions that can cause injury no matter how minor or highly risky behaviour it is.(1) It is most often associated with an underlying mental health issue which goes undetected due to the lack of awareness.
Remember, it is distinct from suicide attempts. Even though it might genuinely look like a suicide attempt but it usually isn’t so.
When someone is having symptoms of depression, such as low mood, lack of motivation, the fundamental reference point of the mental health issue is clear – we know that the person has depression. What further complicates the understanding of self injurious act is a lack of reference point. People do not get a legitimate reference point to understand the motivation behind self-harm or what the self-injurious person is trying to accomplish.
Self harm is one of the most complicated behaviours associated with mental illnesses and often goes misunderstood for the amount of gore and stigma associated with it.
The statistical data related to self-harm will surprise you with one analysis of self-injury(2) across more than 40 countries finding that about 17% of all people will self-harm during their lifetime and the average age of the first incident of self-harm is 13.
Breaking down the myths around self-harm:
Self-injurious acts are often very bloody and frightening in nature, instigating a panicked reaction in people close to the self-injurious person.
When others see deep wounds and scars, covered with blood, they become panic stricken and get more concerned about taking measures to alleviate the physical pain. Such perturbation interrupts people’s ability to explore deeper into the ‘whys’ of self-harm.
Alongside these, there works a number of myths and misunderstandings associated with self-harm that not only impede a clear comprehension of it but also reduces the chances of self injurious people from seeking professional help. For this very reason, about 50% of people seek help for their self-harm but only from friends instead of professionals.(3)
Negative stereotypes can be paralyzing. If the myths can be challenged, there is a high chance of cognizance emerging out of this issue.
Here are a few myths about self-harm:
- People self-harm to seek attention- Many people who self-harm do so discreetly for the very reason of not wanting to be tagged as an attention seeker. These people are traumatized beyond having the courage to face criticism for their behaviour which they know isn’t for seeking attention.
- Only females self-harm – Boys and girls may engage with distinct self-harming behaviours or have different reasons behind inflicting pain on themselves.(4) This does not make self-harming actions any less serious when it comes to men. Self harm in men are frequently under-reported. While women are more likely to self-harm, males may represent at least 35% of total self-injury cases.(5)
- People who harm themselves, enjoy it – People tend to believe that the risk and pain associated with the self-harming actions are thrilling to the self-injurious people. But the truth is that the pain these people feel are no different from pain that others feel. For some, they want to get over the numbing feeling left behind by depression, even if it hurts. Others have described this pain as punishment.(6)
- Self-harm is Gothic- While there are some research suggesting a link, there is no conclusive evidence of the fact that self-harm is a part of any particular youth subculture(‘emo’ or ‘goth’).
We have got all the facts about self-harm as clear as a crystal but what is the motivation behind these kinds of self-harming behaviours? What are these people trying to accomplish?
What is encouraging them to take such actions, even when they know it’s self-destructive?
Here are 5 reasons why people self-harm:
1. To communicate pain:
People who have gone through immense amount of psychological trauma or other forms of abuse often become accustomed to the internal pain so much so that they tend to invalidate it’s existence.
Self-harming tends to be a behaviour pattern for people who don’t have a healthy repertoire of ways to release emotions and deal with pain. When emotional pain and tension builds up inside, they fail to understand what to do and how to vent this pent up emotions.
Under such circumstances, these people find no other means other than inflicting physical pain on themselves to reconstruct and validate the emotional pain which they fail to express.
These people believe that there is no corresponding language to express the magnitude of internal suffering that they have gone through, no words have the capacity to judicially express the amount of damage their inside is. So for them rendering themselves with definite, visible wounds through acts of self-injury makes it easier to communicate the pain to themselves. Imagine the amount of anguish they have been carrying in their heart.