It's understandable to assume that people who self-harm do so because they want to end their own lives. This is understandable but wrong. While suicide attempts do often involve an act of potentially-lethal self-injury, those of us who struggle with nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) are not looking to die. If anything, what we are really trying to do is survive.
That someone who self-harms must be unhappy is an easy assumption to make, but the truth is more complicated than that. While self-harm and mood disorders do often go hand-in-hand, self-harm is not intrinsically linked to mood. Not everyone who is unhappy self-harms, after all, and not everyone who self-harms does so exclusively when they are suffering. So why do people self-harm even when they're happy—or at least appear to be so?
Many people misunderstand those who self-harm. One of the things that make self-harm an inaccessible subject so prone to misunderstanding and even ridicule is that it is something most people cannot imagine ever wanting to do. The less we understand a behavior, the more tempted we are to look beyond the behavior to the person behind the behavior for an explanation. We assess each person’s background, history, personality, and even physical appearance to probe for similarities, the thinking being that the explanation for the behavior can be found in these similarities.
Accusations are often made that movies and television shows glamorize high-risk activities among teenagers. This is not a controversial stance. “Mainstream” cultural media provably produces content both referencing and explicitly centering on teen sex, drug and alcohol use, and other taboo subjects — appropriate for entertainment purposes, but at the cost of implying to a potentially young and impressionable audience the inherent glamor in those choices.
It is common — and not entirely accurate — to assume that self-harm is a sign of suicidal thoughts and/or urges. Self-harm is a maladaptive coping mechanism with highly complex psychological and neurological underpinnings and cannot be reduced to simply a reaction to suicidal feelings. Not all of those who self-harm are suicidal and not all of those who are suicidal self-harm. This is an important point to remember when talking about self-harm in relation to suicidality, which can be a touchy subject for many.
Spreading self-harm awareness is difficult because of self-harm stigma. Self-harm is often either cloaked in taboo or ridiculed as a kind of punchline. If you or someone you know struggles with self-harm or has struggled with self-harm in the past, you may find yourself frustrated by our culture’s general lack of empathy, understanding, and nuance in its approach to self-harm. But there is no need to feel helpless in the face of this frustration. Instead, think of it as an opportunity: an opportunity for you to speak your truth, so that others may hear it and finally know. You can spread self-harm awareness.
You see this stigma of self-harm for attention played out in TV shows, movies, and often even in real life: A person engages in self-harm. This behavior is noticed by another person, either because the self-harmer has confessed or wears visible scars. People debate among themselves about whether this self-harming behavior warrants confronting the person and/or seeking professional help for the person. Then, as if on cue, someone suggests they forget about the whole thing, and says something along the lines of, "She's just self-harming for the attention."
My name is Kayla Chang, and I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of the Speaking Out About Self-Injury blog at HealthyPlace. I hope that by sharing my thoughts and experiences in a way that is informative, vulnerable and — most importantly — honest with you, we can build an ongoing network of support and have meaningful, productive conversations around the issue of self-injury (also known as self-harm) together.
When I was first in self-harm recovery, school was one of my major triggers. Back to school anxiety always make me fear I was going to relapse. With all of the due dates, friend drama, and the pressure to do well in my classes, school was a very stressful time for me. I had a very hard time managing my self-harm urges when I was in high school, but when I started self-harm recovery in college I started to find some healthier coping skills to handle the stresses of life. In this blog post, I am going to be sharing with you three things that helped me manage my self-harm urges while in school.
People want to know why self-injury is so prevalent in borderline personality disorder (BPD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health's website, borderline personality disorder consists of unstable moods, behaviors, and relationships, with trouble regulating emotions and thoughts while exhibiting impulsive behavior. Another characteristic of BPD is self-injurious behaviors and increased suicidality. Cutting and other forms of self-harm are so prevalent in borderline that they seem to have become indicators of it. Of course, not everyone who self-harms has BPD, and not everyone with the disorder self-harms. However, self-harm is widely prevalent in BPD. And I was given the borderline diagnosis probably because I cut myself.