The media gives us a distorted and stereotyped image of someone who practices self-harm, conjuring up images of thin, dark teenagers, probably with dyed hair and dressed in black. As with any other stereotype, this image may apply to some who engage in self-harm, but it does not come close to encompassing the wide range of people who engage in the practice or, more importantly, the reasons why people engage in this behaviour in the first place.
Self-injury is usually a sign of a much bigger problem and is often a symptom of a mental health disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The problem with stereotyping is that we may turn a blind eye to a friend, loved one, or co-worker who may be harming themselves because they don’t look like the “normal” self-harming person.
What Are the Signs of Self-harm?
Self-injurious behaviours do not discriminate. Anyone from a successful businesswoman to your teenager’s best friend can be involved. But if you don’t recognize the signs of self-harm you may never notice, as most people who engage in self-harm go to great lengths to cover up the evidence.
Signs can include the following:
– Fine scratches, almost like made by cats;
– Unusual injuries or burns;
– The person regularly wears long sleeves or heavy clothing, even if it is hot;
– The person seems depressed or anxious;
– The person becomes irritable or defensive if asked about bruises, burns or cuts.
Why do People Self Harm Like This?
Self-harm is also known as non-suicidal self-injury, as those who engage in it usually do not intend to end their lives. So why do they do it?
There are many reasons:
– Self-mutilation can be a coping mechanism, the pain being physical and controlled, against an uncontrollable emotional pain from a past trauma, such as sexual abuse or child neglect;
– Self-harm can distract someone from everyday stresses, such as relationship problems, financial problems, or a stressful work environment;
– Self-mutilation can be an attempt to get the attention of others, or a cry for help;
– It could even be a symptom of psychosis. The person may actually have heard “voices” warning that if they don’t cut themselves, bang their head against the wall, or engage in other self-harm, something bad will happen.
Not everyone who cuts themselves suffers from psychoses, of course. Still, there really is no safe amount of this behaviour, so help should be sought no matter what. Self-harm can, in fact, lead to irreparable physical harm. Ultimately, it can even lead to death from a cut too deep or from an infection resulting from it. There are other healthy ways of coping out there. There are even therapies that can help you stop your self-injurious behaviours. So no matter how small an issue it is, get help, talk to the person involved and make sure they get the help they need.