What is Self-Harm?

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Self-harm is the practice of deliberately damaging body tissue as a way of coping with inner feelings. It is often misinterpreted as a suicidal act when usually nothing could be further from the truth, however as self-harm is a symptom of a person in great distress there is a higher chance of those who self-harm going on to attempt or commit suicide.

When I use the term ‘self-harm’ on these pages it is with no reference to suicidal intent as for me and most other people who do this self-harm is about preserving our lives and not ending them.

Methods vary from cutting the skin with razor blades, knives or broken glass to burning, scratching, hair pulling, biting and punching and although some of these methods may appear to be more extreme than others no method implies a greater amount of personal distress. Anyone who self-harms in any form is hurting emotionally and just because you think a person ‘only pulls their hair’ doesn’t mean they can’t possssibly feel as bad as a person who cuts or burns.

There are a number of different terms for this practice, it is often referred to as “self-injury” “self-mutilation” or “self-cutting” although there seems to be no unanimous vote as to which is most appropriate. I use the term self-harm which seems to be the term most commonly used in the UK but in America “self-injury” seems to be the term of choice. Many self-harmers object to the term “self-mutilation”, it is a term which seems to only add to the stigma already surrounding self-harm by adding to the ghastly picture it already creates in people’s minds.

Self-harm is not a hideous matter, it is not only carried out by those confined to psychiatric wards or those suffering from severe psychotic disorders and it is not a problem which is going to suddenly decrease if we continue to ignore it as an issue. The chances are that even if you think this is something that does not affect you or any of your friends or relatives you would be mistaken. It affects people of all ages, male and female, from all walks of life all over the world and you may never even be aware that someone you know is struggling with it.

People who self-harm are often ashamed of what they do and few ‘come out’ to others prefering to hide it from society to avoid being thought of as ‘sick’ or ‘twisted’. This is a great shame because often what someone who self-harms needs most is the support of their friends and families to deal with things.

As someone who has both been open about harming myself as well as keeping it hidden I know exactly why people aren’t open about it and why they keep it their personal secret. If a person is unhappy the last thing they need is to trust someone with something like this and face cruel or hurtful reactions only deepening their isolation.

Self-harm is not an attention seeking device no matter what myths seems to have been conjured about it, if you have been told by someone that they harm themselves it is because they have trusted you enough to confide in you not because they are trying to manipulate you.


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