A blog I subscribe to sent me an email yesterday about a post written by a mother who’s son self-harms called “Self-Injury: The Silent Scream for Help” (full disclosure, I used to write for this blog a few years back). I was suddenly hit with a revelation that saying that self-harm is a “scream for help” potentially dismisses the purpose of self-harm, for some, as a legitimate coping mechanism.
Self-harm, namely cutting, has played multiple roles in my life since I first began the behaviour in late 2002. Cutting was how I showed that I was upset, how I punished myself, made myself feel better and it also served as a distraction. There were of course times when I hoped someone would notice, see that I was struggling and give me the help I needed so there is validity in using it to signal help. Cutting became my addiction and an extremely effective means of coping with sadness, anger, frustration, rejection and overall pain. For these reasons, I didn’t want help. I didn’t want to stop cutting. If I was screaming anything it was, “Leave me alone!”
Self-harm is a legitimate way of coping with emotions for many. Those who do not engage in the behaviour may not understand that because cutting, burning or hitting yourself (a few examples) seem like very strange things to do in comparison to attending yoga, going for a jog or chatting with a friend in times of emotional need. We all cope differently.
I also don’t view self-harm to be that silent! It’s a very loud statement, boldly displayed on the body even if no one else sees it but you. You leave marks of your pain and coping on your body, some of which do not completely fade away. Sometimes, when I cut, I’m not screaming, I’m sighing with relief. That is why it became an effective coping strategy. There is also the assumption that those who self-harm want help or want help with that particular behaviour. I feel that wanting help is assumed because many view the behaviour as “all bad”. Self-harm can be a way that we help ourselves.
For me, cutting is something I still turn to in times of great emotional pain when I can’t think of other options. I do not see myself as “silently screaming for help” as I am actually very vocal about my needs. It has taken me a few years to work up to this point and I have gained a lot of new coping skills that I try and use first. Surprisingly, what helped me limit the cutting was those around me accepting that it was a tool l I had decided to use (if I even told them at all. You don’t always tell people you went for a walk to calm down so don’t always expect someone to tell you they self-harmed). Not being shamed for cutting helped my self-esteem and in combination with harm reduction I was taking care of myself. I don’t need help, I need a hug and a reminder that I did my best and I’m still awesome.
I am not pro self-harm in any way. Cutting has caused a great amount of pain in my life and has caused more than one friendship/relationship to end and has caused me to hide my body because of scarring. I accept it as a reality and I need to respect myself, show myself compassion and know that I was always doing what I believed was best for me.
This is why I say self-harming behaviour is NOT something that should be ignored or mocked but should be respected. By asking and acknowledging a person’s reasons for self-harm you can support them in engaging in the behaviour safely, limit the shame caused and help them find other ways to cope if that is where they are at in their journey.