Just as suicidal ideation is now openly discussed, so is self-harming. Unfortunately, those who need emotional and physical support, are being shamed and labelled as attention-seeking. Some call it a cry for help. So, why isn’t there more support and care for those who injure themselves? They need places where they can safely share their feelings and experiences, because, yes, it is a cry for help. It is an attempt to express and show the despair locked within them. How can we support someone in need and how do we support ourselves through this?
** TRIGGER WARNING – Mention of self-harm/ injury. ** Take care when reading this article.
I don’t exactly remember when I started self-injuring, probably around 11 years old. I scratched the back of my hands or used sharp objects to scratch my arms. How superficial it was at this stage; my inner pain and terror were real. I wasn’t allowed to express my inner turmoil; my actions and my behaviour spoke louder but were ridiculed and minimised. I was being a teenager, a very difficult one. I was told I had nothing in my head and was always unhappy to start with.
Much later in my life, after years of not physically harming myself, one evening brought strong rejection/ abandonment trauma up and I cut myself. It was no longer superficial. I did it for years, secretly. I also starved myself. I wanted to disappear, or better still: I wanted to die. The thing was: I was a mother. A stressed out, single mother with little support. So, I held on, one day at a time. It left me exhausted though. My pain needed out. When I was really unwell, I overdosed a few times, one of them I was driven to A&E. Taking meds, any meds in the hope to fall into oblivion, even just for a few minutes is another form of self-harm. It is also dangerous to our bodies, even if we survive.
There are millions of reasons why someone hurt themselves. Most of the time it can be traced back to a stressful or traumatic event. For children and teenagers, victims of abuse at home or/and at school, who have nobody to turn to, or who have reached out but have been dismissed, the pain, the sadness, and the feeling of abandonment are deep. Without a safe outlet and a safe person to experience these raw emotional flashbacks with, the pressure builds up and needs to be let out. For me, it was also to show how much I was hurting on the inside as I have been told I don’t look depressed or traumatised. Because of my appearance, my difficulties weren’t taken seriously.
The question to ask, isn’t: “Why are you hurting yourself?” but: “What is hurting you?”, or “What is happening to you?” Whatever comes up, needs to be accepted as it is. Sometimes, we don’t get any answers: the pain is so overwhelming, it is hard to express through words, especially for children and teenagers. “It is no big deal. I don’t want to talk about it.” this is a hard response to accept. As parents. we want to know so we can make it all better. As friends, we want to help too.
If young people’s suffering is being downplayed because “They are teenagers.” Adults who self-injure are called childish, and immature. For all, this behaviour is labeled as a cry for help, attention seeking. It is a cry for help, one that has been left unheard, or worse completely ignored, for too long. It isn’t attention seeking, it is connection seeking. We, human beings, thrive and heal through connections, loving, accepting, and safe/ respectful connections.
In the instance someone you love is self-harming, pushing for an answer, for a conversation, a resolution isn’t helpful. We can’t shame anyone into recovery. We can’t love anyone into recovery either. The priority needs to be ourselves so we can keep on being this kind, accepting loving presence for our closest and dearest, who are suffering. For parents. it is heartbreaking. Of course, our responsibility is to keep our children safe and if the self-harm means our children land in A&E, it is distressing. No matter what we do to avoid any more injuries, they find ways to do so. We might feel guilty for not being more vigilant. We might start going through their bedroom and hiding blades, knives, etc. We are on alert and worried. Self-care still needs to be a priority so we can be a lighthouse in our children’s turbulent times. Mind offers good guidance on their website: “Helping someone who self-Harm”. And Mumsnet has a wonderful article: “What you can do if you know or suspect your teenager is self-harming“
If you are self-harming/ injuring: I am sorry you are in so much pain. I know you aren’t being difficult, or dramatic. You are hurting and your experience matter. I really hope you have at least one person you can turn to, someone you can really rely on. I also know that many of you don’t have such a person in your life. Getting access to affordable person-centered, trauma-informed, and compassionate therapies is harder than ever because of the lack of funds and the never-ending economic crisis. You can check the links below for help. You aren’t being immature, and you aren’t disordered. You are suffering.
The mind gives tips for coping with urges to self-harm right now
The way I was able to stop self-cutting was by reminding myself that I will no longer hurt myself the way my family hurt me. I started to eat again when I started to approach this behaviour with Self-Compassion. Was it easy? Is it easy? No. It is an ongoing process. The way someone can stop themselves from hurting themselves is very personal. There is no one solution fitting all. The best remedies are patience, loving kindness, acceptance and (self) Compassion while safely exploring what lies beneath the physical wounds.
- National Self Harm Network (NSHN)
- Young Minds
- Mind (For Adults)
Love & Light