Usually I take the time to make a pretty heading for these posts, but this is an ugly topic and honestly I’ve sat on this post for a week building up the nerve to press publish.
Self harm is a difficult topic to discuss, even in the already awkward area of mental health. Someone who hasn’t ever cut themselves may wonder how anyone gets to that point, or judgemental people (like the first doctor I even confessed self harming to, 5 years into my destructive habit) may say that it “doesn’t count” unless you really go for it and leave scars.
The truth is it’s actually really easy to self harm. You might have done it yourself without realising.
Self harm doesn’t mean picking up a knife and cutting your body, it means hurting yourself. That might sound a bit obvious, but when you really stop to think about it there are a lot of ways to hurt yourself.
An example that comes to mind is a friend who had been through some traumatic life events and was struggling to process them, they carried a lot of (unjustified) guilt and so they drank. They regularly got black out drunk and ended up in dangerous situations. In short they caused themselves harm. They self harmed.
Now many people would not get to such an extreme point, but the truth is this:
Every time you do something that has a negative effect on yourself you are causing yourself harm.
Are you staying in a relationship that makes you miserable? Maybe you are doing that because you don’t really believe you deserve happiness?
Are you eating excessively or avoiding it as much as possible? That probably stems from negative emotions just the same as if you picked up a weapon and injured yourself.
Are you putting up with verbal abuse from someone in your life? Letting them use you as an emotional punching bag? By choosing to let that happen you are choosing to be in pain.
You might read some of those and think “I don’t have a choice but to put up with this or that” – well that is pretty much how people who physically hurt themselves feel. It is an addiction, a crutch or a reflex. It is really hard to not fall back into the habit when you are feeling worthless or angry or sad.
Last week for the first time in 10 years I fell off the wagon and self harmed, but honestly when I sat back and thought about it I’d been doing it for weeks. Eating junk food until I felt sick, avoiding things that make me happy, I’d been beating myself up in other ways long before I touched a blade.
Yet others treated this action much more seriously. I think we need to rethink that. Of course traditional self harm is serious, but that doesn’t mean other forms of it are less so. My GP and my local mental health service had been very dismissive of my distress up until that point, and I don’t think that teaches us a positive message. You can kill yourself with smoking or cholesterol after all.
I guess my take away from this is to consider the the choices you are making and the emotional reasoning for them. If you think you are making bad choices for yourself, talk to someone because it is just as serious as the big scary “self harm”.