Self-harm is when a person deliberately injures themselves in an attempt to cope with strong feelings such as anger, despair or self-hatred. Someone who self-harms may inflict physical injuries in a variety of ways such as cutting, burning or biting themselves.
Generally speaking, someone who self-harms isn't trying to commit suicide. A person who is suicidal is desperate to never feel anything again, whereas the person who self-harms is only trying to make themselves feel better — although in some cases, a person may self-harm in an attempt to drive away suicidal feelings.
Reasons For Self-Harm
Some of the many reasons why a person might self-harm could include:
& #8226; to cope with difficult emotions
& #8226; the belief that punishment is deserved
& #8226; low self-esteem
& #8226; poor body image
& #8226; self-hatred
& #8226; strong feelings of anxiety or depression
& #8226; emotional numbness (feeling physical pain is 'better' than feeling nothing)
& #8226; as a response to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Is it Just Attention Seeking?
Some people may think that deliberate self-harm is 'just attention seeking.' This attitude is unhelpful and it invalidates the distress the person is feeling at the time. People who self-harm have genuine difficulties coping with aspects of their lives but may not have more appropriate ways to deal with them. Furthermore they may find it difficult to ask others for help (e.g. not wanting to worry them).
Self-Harm Warning Signs
Here are a few early warning signs that someone might be self-harming, or might be heading in that direction:
& #8226; Dramatic changes in mood
& #8226; Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
& #8226; Losing interest and pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
& #8226; Social withdrawal - decreased participation and poor communication withfriends and family
& #8226; Hiding or washing their own clothes separately
& #8226; Avoiding situations where their arms or legs are exposed (eg, swimming)
& #8226; Wearing clothes that seem to be inappropriate for weather conditions (e.g.long pants and sleeves on a very hot day)
& #8226; Dramatic drop in performance and interactions at school, work, or home
& #8226; Strange excuses provided for injuries
& #8226; Unexplained injuries, such as scratches or cigarette burns
& #8226; Hiding objects such as razor blades or lighters in unusual places (e.g. at the back of drawers)
How to Approach Someone Who Has Self Harmed
Firstly, assess if the person needs immediate first aid, and provide basic care. Call an ambulance if the injury is life threatening.
For those who have self-harmed, talking about their self-harming behaviour with a family member or friend can be an anxiety-provoking and overwhelming experience. The most important way to approach someone who has self-harmed is to remain calm and create an open discussion as to why they feel they need to self-harm. Let them talk freely. The most valuable thing you can do is listen.
It is natural for you to feel angry, scared and frustrated. You may even blame yourself, especially if you are a parent. However it is best to approach a person who self-harms with a non-judgemental attitude, as approaching with aggression or criticism will only inflame the situation. Gently assure them that no matter what their actions, you will provide the love and support needed to help them. Explain to them that their behaviour is unhelpful and that they need to seek help to learn more helpful ways of coping.
Arrange an appointment with your GP and ask for a referral to see a psychologist if necessary. Research self-harm to find out more information for yourself and the person who is self-harming. You may also like to consider arranging counselling for yourself, to help with your own reactions, behaviours and emotions.