Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm is a topic that will stir a lot of passionate, ill-informed opinions. Various camps will have their own opinions ranging from the group that taunts the “emo cutters” to the others who will feel threatened by it. Those thought processes do not reflect the reality of self-harm for most people. I say most because a majority of the mentally ill are not a threat to anyone but themselves. On the other hand, there is a 100% certainty that someone in your life has engaged in a self-destructive behavior as a coping mechanism. Ever drink to forget? Smoke a joint? Take someone else’s prescription? Congratulations, you’re in the same demographic as cutters. There is no difference except the presence of blood.

”But if they hurt themselves, won’t they hurt someone else?”

It is quite easy to see how someone could arrive at this conclusion. However, that belief signifies a major misunderstanding of what the driving factors are behind the act. A person that self-harms is working to cope with what is going on in their mind. Depression has likely destroyed any sense of value and self-worth that person may have had. The depressed will view themselves as less of a person; not worth comfort, love, pleasure, or consideration. The pain is an escape from that mentality. The average depressive cutter is no more likely to hurt another person than a well-minded individual.

Fear is not an appropriate response to a cutter. Nervousness and anxiety will often manifest in the way of barbs to insulate oneself from something that is hard to comprehend. The reality is that many of cutters are at a point in their mind where they need meaningful assistance. Save your remarks, a cutter will have plenty of negative thoughts floating around to last them a good while.

Helping A Loved One

Discovering that a loved one self-harms can be fairly shocking. Most people will not be able to understand what pushed their mind to that point. Luckily, it is not really necessary to understand it to truly help your loved one. All you really need to understand is that your loved one is going through circumstances in their mind that they are having a hard time dealing with. Thus, they fall back to something that is both easier and distracting.

Urge the person to seek professional help or to call a crisis line. It is not something you want to overlook or just try and sweep under the carpet. Even entering therapy could help develop the necessary skills to cope rather than falling back to a self-destructive circumstance.

Is My Self-Harming Loved One Suicidal?

I have seen many professional studies and speculation that self-harm is a precursor to suicide attempts. I do not believe this information is properly presented. Self-harm is an indicator that a person is having serious coping difficulties with their life circumstances or what is going through their mind. That does not necessarily mean that the person will go from self-harm to suicidal.

However, most suicide attempts are driven by a depressed mentality of just trying to get the misery to stop. It’s an extreme coping mechanism and a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The two activities share that similarity. Yes, one can be indicative of the other but there is no absolute correlation. All of our minds are different.

Suicide and self-harm are both symptoms of a larger problem. Addressing and managing that larger problem needs to be the primary goal for your loved one to attain a better sense of mental wellness.

My Experience

I have undertaken many forms of self-harm as a coping mechanism. There was a period of time when I would heat a steak knife on the stove until the blade discolored. I would then use it to give myself first and second degree burns on my chest where no one would see them. The question I most often get is “Why?”. I was at a point where I could not actually emotionally feel because of the depths of my depression. Every day was the same, there was no happiness, no sadness, no anything. I started doing it because at a point when I was disconnecting from reality, I started to wonder if I was actually alive or not. Pain was something I could actually feel. It was something overwhelming that I could direct my mind to for a brief respite from the depression. It was a symptom of a much larger problem.