Trigger warning: Self harm
Many things can fall under the umbrella of self harm. In this piece I’m concentrating more on the reaction to it rather than the types.
From a personal perspective reactions I’ve had haven’t been great. I can now completely understand that those what were in my eyes, extreme reactions, to my self harm. I know that people weren’t reacting to the cause, or me but to the effects. It was as though I’d been attacked by someone, I guess I had, me. I didn’t see it as a violent act against myself, it was how I was trying to cope. Crying and shouting were the most extreme things I’ve been met with, getting called a psycho, I can comprehend these knee jerk reactions, but I’m writing this to say that we need next to step away from those reactions and listen to a person who is reaching out.
I have had endless conversations with people about being called an ‘attention seeker’. I think this term is what holds the most shame for me, and other people I’ve spoken to, about being cast as this weird adolescent stereotype. The fact is even if this was just a cry for attention, it’s a pretty extreme step to take. It’s time to think about why someone is using this to cope and not just at what they are doing. Also, this is a huge contribution to feeling ashamed because the person saying it is usually using a diminishing tone, implying its weak. We aren’t weak, we were trying to cope, yea I didn’t pick a rational way of coping, but in all honesty at the time I thought it was helping. Little did I know I was taking a step further down the road to self sabotage and self hate. I had lived with depression for a year or so and was on medication, after I told people. I got to a point where I was breaking thing to hurt myself with, and then it finally sunk in. I was in a destructive cycle that would never end unless I chose to end it. I found other ways to cope, some a lot healthier, some not, I probably slipped up and it took a long time to undo negative thought patterns and stop sabotaging myself in different ways, I’m still undoing that. Now I have positive and helpful coping mechanisms in place but I fear they would have never come about if I hadn’t found those few people willing to try to understand why and support me.
“I’m not even sure why I care. Maybe it’s the idea of being pigeon-holed as an adolescent self-harmer, or even being an attention-seeker in some way. Like they’ll think, “If she didn’t want us to know about it, then why’s she wearing something that shows the scars?” It’s really complex, but I think it does boil down to shame and embarrassment, even though I feel so much empathy for the person I was when I scarred myself.” – Anon
It can be incredibly hard supporting someone who self harms, don’t forget to look after your mental health in the process. Showing empathy and understanding, being someone to talk can make all the difference. There is lots of support to be found online:
7 cups of tea is a great place where you can go to talk anonymously about things troubling you.
My personal listener link is here if you want to talk to me anonymously.
Lifesigns – has some great fact sheets that deal with both sides, telling people and what to do after being told someone self injures.
Hopefully this, understanding and supporting, will stop people falling into pro self harm communities and being encouraged to harm instead of being listened to and finding other ways to cope.
Now my scars are for the most part clearly visible, I still catch people staring. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of them particularly. I feel quite comfortable talking about my anxiety and depression but if someone brings up my scars in front of people I will admit I still feel that sinking feeling, that I have to try to find words to explain what my scars are from. I often just say ‘ They were my terrible way of dealing with things’ I do feel awkward talking more about it. In summer, I become more aware that they are there, but I don’t cover them anymore.
I’ve not worn a sleeveless top in public (unless I’ve been going out somewhere dark, where people will be too drunk to notice) for twelve years – even when I’ve been at fitness classes or whatever – because of the scars on the top of my arms. – Anon
It’s complex and it is difficult to approach from both sides, but I think if awareness is raised and conversations are approached with empathy and understanding we can work towards dissipating the shame surrounding self harm.