Self-injury is a highly misunderstood ‘problem’; there are so many pre-conceived ideas and myths. When you start to talk about self-injury, whether you’re just broaching the subject in general or you’re coming out to friends, family or professionals, you may find that it’s hard for the other person to accept that you – their friend, relative, or client – falls into this reality of being someone who hurts themselves intentionally.
At LifeSIGNS, as all of us have experience with self-injury, we know what many of the myths and false assumptions are, and we want to make it clear that they are just that: myths. They are not facts and do not represent the majority of people who self-harm. Some myths occasionally have a thread of truth to them, but in such cases the truth has been twisted into a misconception, rather than portrayed factually, exactly as it was intended. Sometimes this is to grab the media’s attention, or to try to stereotype those who hurt themselves, to ‘brand’ them as being a certain type of person. Whatever the reason, it’s wrong, and it’s time those myths were cleared up and the real facts exposed.
Our work and many large studies have shown than men can turn to SI; not just women. It’s not a ‘teenage girl’ thing; in fact, not only is it not limited to women, but it’s also not limited to adolescents! Any person of any gender, age, nationality and sexuality can turn to self-injury. It’s not the kind of behaviour that can be stereotyped, nor can it be ‘grown out’ of. Life is hard for everyone, and we all choose our own ways to cope. Self-injury is just onecoping technique chosen by some as they simply don’t know how else to manage. Not one person in society can be ruled out of the risk of turning to SI at some point in their lives.
It is also commonly assumed that self-harm of any kind is attention seeking. OK, we’ll admit there is a bit of truth to this, but not in the way it’s usually portrayed by the media and such. Self-injury can indicate the need for attention, but not the ‘look at me, I want to be the centre of attention’, attention. It suggests a need for emotional support. It says, ‘Do you know what, I’m overwhelmed and don’t know how else to cope’. Often, the last thing that person wants is to be the centre of attention, so it really pays to understand the difference of what type of attention someone who self-injures is in need of, so you can learn how to go about giving them the right kind of support and care they’re crying out for. Likewise, if you believe someone might be using their SI behaviour to manipulate you, to control you…it’s still an indicator of a desperate need for support, a tool that says, ‘I find it hard not being in control and need help’.
Also don’t assume that someone who hurts themselves wants to kill themselves. As a general rule, that’s just not the case. Again, there is a thread of truth in that there can be a connection between SI and suicide: that connection is depression and / or difficulty in coping with life or a certain situation. Anyone who is depressed or experiencing a very difficult period in life may be at greater risk of suicide, just as they’re at risk of self-injuring. Be aware of the potential link, but don’t assume that someone who hurts themselves doesn’t want to live any more. You’ll frequently find that the opposite is true. We want to live!
Of course, there are many more myths, and we’ve looked at as many as we could find. There are too many to list here, so head over to our self-injury myths web page for much more detail on more than a dozen common misconceptions about SI, and why we disagree so strongly with each myth. Thanks to our Support Forum members, and our Facebook and Twitter followers, for sharing with us the thoughts they wanted us to explore.
LifeSIGNS is dedicated to self-injury and only self-injury. We worry about eating disorders, and suicide of course, but we don’t explore these topics in-depth – we focus on self-injury and touch on some factors underlying the behaviour, such as depression, anxiety and self-esteem, and we also look at happiness as part of our mission to support people who self-injure.
We offer anonymous peer support via our Support Forum, as we know how difficult it can be talk about self-injury, and it can be easier online. So if you are looking for support for yourself, we hope this article and the related web page show you that we really do understand and have been where you are now. If you’re looking for information to help you support someone you know who self-injures, then you’re still free to use all the resources available.
Photo credit: One Way Stock