*Trigger Warning: This piece discusses elements of self-harm and mental illness which may be uncomfortable for some readers.*
There are currently seven billion individuals the planet.
Of those, two million will participate in a form of self-harm at some point in their life.
However, it won't be a cry for attention.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists self-injurious behavior as a characteristic of borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, depression, panic disorders, drug abuse, and oppositional disorders.
While reasons for self-harm could be both psychological and environmental, the main reason stems from overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety.
As an average joe, it may be incredibly difficult to understand why someone would purposefully hurt themselves.
Who may wish to do this?
As somebody who has succumbed to self-harm during the last few years, I'm able to honestly say you will never find an answer to that question until you experience it on your own. But I we do hope you never do.
Self-destructive behaviors tend to begin in the existence of a trauma – whether past or present – because it turns into a sort of coping mechanism, albeit a negative one. Usually, with trauma, there is an overwhelming feeling of unmanageable anxiety that may leave an individual feeling like they cannot deal with it. Self-injury, then, becomes a way of releasing that anxiety, while also coping with a fundamental sadness or numbness.
It becomes a way to take what you're feeling on the inside and give it a face on the exterior – a pain you can see and connect instead of one you can't.
That's how my therapist described it in my experience and for the first time since i have started, it made sense. I could not handle what I was feeling on the inside. I've been a “fixer”, however i didn't know how you can “fix” myself, and developing a pain I could see and fix and make better, allow me to believe I was doing much better than I thought I had been.
As shocking and horrific as possible to discover someone's scars in order to discover they have been hiding self-injurious behavior, it's important to understand a few things:
Remain calm and caring
I understand the necessity to panic. No one wants to know someone they love is participating in that sort of behavior. From experience, among the worst things you can do is make sure they are feel like less of a person and more of the burden by yelling their way. Avoid panicking and overreacting.
Listen with compassion
For those who have never experienced this feeling for yourself, I sincerely we do hope you never do. Listen when someone starts talking. Do not pay attention to respond in order to interject. Listen with an open heart as well as an open mind. Listen as you would when they were talking about other things.
Do not threaten them in an attempt to stop their behavior
Threatening to possess them admitted or anything along those lines will only worsen their thoughts and may lead to a self-injurious action far greater than what they've engaged in. It comes with an underlying reason, a necessity to deal with something they are feeling internally, that explains why they're doing this. The healing and recovery processes can only begin once they feel they are safe.
Get appropriate help from a professional mental health professional
There's only a lot one individual can do on their own and recovering from self-harm and the trauma that brought it on is not one of them. A mental medical expert can make that process a little easier than attempting to do so without one. However, do not force someone into therapy. Be there on their behalf the best way you can, educate them on their resources, and when they're ready, be there on their behalf during their recovery process. I've learned from general observations you cannot help somebody that does not desire to be helped, but when they finally reach a point when they realize they do need which help, it is the best feeling just to walk that journey together.
Self-harm does not imply weakness, neither is it a cry for attention, because the stigma surrounding it has stated.
“Other times, I take a look at my scars and find out another thing: a girl who had been trying to cope with something horrible that they should not have experienced to live through whatsoever. My scars show pain and suffering, they also show my will to survive. They’re a part of my history that’ll continually be there.”
-Cheryl Rainfield, Scars