Self-harm - why do some people do it?
Self-harm is thought of as a teenage phenomena yet some adults self-harm too
Self-harm: challenging the myths
We tend to associate self-harm with teenagers, perhaps to gain attention or even follow a trend. Yet adults also self-harm. There are those who self-harm in more socially acceptable ways - drinking, smoking, taking drugs, over - or under - eating, as just a few ways. Some adults partake in such activities with self-harm in mind, others view them as a method of escapism.
However, there are some adults who self-harm by cutting, burning or using other methods to inflicting physical pain on themselves. It is, for most of society, a thought which is particularly hard to grapple with. We ask questions such as 'have they never grown up?' 'what about seeing a therapist instead?' or simply 'why?'
Self-harm can be viewed as a way of physically expressing emotional feelings, especially those which are hard to communicate or comprehend, such as depression without an obvious trigger. Self-harmers rarely want others to see the injuries they inflict on themselves and though it can be a cry for help, it may be a way of trying to understand their inner negative feelings.
Adults who self-harm might have a history of doing so in younger life. Just as for some people alcohol becomes a crutch, for others its self-harm. In contradiction to the stereotype of angrily slashing at wrists, self-harmers are often calm when they self-harm and consider where will cause least damage or visibility. It is, especially in adult life, usually an embarrassment and something to be kept hidden, rather than an exhibitionist act or cry for help.
However, if someone is self-harming, just as when someone is self-harming in the more socially acceptable ways such as drinking too much, they need help. Self-harm is not usually a suicide attempt (self-harmers rarely cut the wrists and signs of this require urgent action) but it does indicate that someone is unable to use healthy coping mechanisms to deal with an issue.
There are many support systems in place to help adult self-harmers (yes at first glance it may look like everything is teenage-focused!) and a good first port of call is your GP. If they are not understanding, ask to see another GP (and lodge a complaint). The Samaritans are also great to talk to and there is a lot of useful information on the internet - MIND's website is particularly helpful http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/self-harm
If you are a self-harmer, there ARE other more positive coping methods, so take a brave step and seek help. Not everyone will understand at first and some may shy away from you, so choose who you tell carefully - giving them information can help allay their fears and move them away from stereotypes.
Some instant self-help ideas that might assist to are:
- if you want to self-harm, trying punching a pillow or doing ten press-ups
- keep a mood diary to see if there are any triggers which make you want to self-harm
- make sure you eat healthily, sleep well (eight hours a day) and exercise at least three times a week
- try to reduce major stresses in your life
- adopt another habit when you want to self-harm, like painting or reading
A lot of self-harm leaves life-long scars - both physical and mentl - and you risk seriously hurting yourself, so finding a positive alternative really can make a huge difference to your life.