What is self-harm?
Self-harm is a widely misunderstood issue and one that we feel needs to be discussed more openly in order to help sufferers. Many of the clients that we treat at The Recover Clinic are sufferers of self harm and recently published data from England Health Behaviour in School Aged Children revealed that up to one in five 15-year-olds across the country self-harm. Self-harm isn’t simply a young person’s issue it’s something that effects people of all ages and is on the rise.
Self-harm is widely regarded as when someone inflicts physical injury upon themselves. At The Recover Clinic we have a broader sense of what constitutes self-harm, we regard ‘self-harm’ as any self-inflicted behaviour that causes harm to a person physically or emotionally. This could include any of the following examples:
- Binging on alcohol
- Engaging in relationships with abusive people
- Sabotaging positive relationships
- Pulling your own hair out
Why do people self-harm?
Self-harm is a way people cope with challenging emotions. For many this could be a way of expressing internal distress or providing a release for painful emotion. A sufferer does not necessarily have to be suicidal to engage in these behaviours. There are many reasons why people wish to engage in self-harm:
- Gaining a sense of control that might be missing from elsewhere in life.
- The pain of the injury can distract from emotional pain
- A sense of not deserving love and nurturing.
Why do people continue to self-harm?
Self-harm can be addictive and habit-forming. There is evidence that neurochemicals called ‘endogenous opioids’ play a role in self-harm. These chemicals are released when the body is injured in any way and can cause you to be less sensitive to pain, and you may even experience this pain as pleasurable.
What should I do if I self-harm?
If your self-harm has led to injury, seek medical attention immediately.
Tell a responsible adult, whether that be a therapist/teacher/parent. Telling someone is the first step to breaking the cycle. It won’t be easy, but it is a sign of strength and courage. Letting go and sharing this secret can often be a huge relief.
When telling a friend or loved one, try to avoid focusing on the actual self-harm behaviors and instead put the emphasis on the feelings underlying the situation.
Make sure you feel comfortable with who you decide to tell. If you wish to tell of professional or family member, perhaps take a friend with you who can provide you with support.
What to do if someone discloses that they self-harm?
Case studies have shown that whether a person seeks professional help largely depends on the reaction of their friend when they first disclose that they self-harm. Therefore, it is important to know what to do in this situation. If a friend tells you they self-harm:
- Show them concern, understanding and support for their feelings.
- Encourage them to talk about the feelings that led to these behaviours, if not with you, then with a professional.
- Try not to focus on the harm itself, as difficult as this may be.
- Ensure you have a support team to help you deal with any feelings that you are facing. Trying to figure out if your friend is in danger and deciding what to do is not easy, so make sure you have someone to turn to if you become overwhelmed.
- Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t notice. The feelings of shame surrounding self-harm often force the person to become very secretive. Additionally, you may not have realized that the behaviours they are engaging in are even a form of self-harm, such as alcohol abuse.
Our view on self-harm
At The Recover Clinic we focus on the feelings behind self-harm. We do not feel it is helpful to ban all self-harming behaviors before a person has the necessary coping tools to deal with their emotions, whilst keeping them safe at the same time. Therefore we place the emphasis on gradually teaching our clients how to deal with negative emotions and with time, self-harming behaviours are completely replaced with healthy and safe coping mechanisms.