One of the worst misconceptions that I’ve seen happen is the belief that self harm comes from a place of attention-seeking and stupidity in a choice of solution to deal with issues and pain. The list goes on and on about self inflicted pain; people often assume it is limited to cutting, but it can also include scratching/pinching, impact, carving, hair pulling (trichotillomania), abuse of drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, unhealthy sexual intent, interfering with the healing of wounds or burning.
Growing awareness of these issues has helped the cause in more than one way. People around the word, especially in Western Liberal Democracies, are recognizing self harm and mental illnesses as serious issues and are becoming more and more open to making self-harmers feel accepted.
As a friend, as a family member, a significant other or event an acquaintance, a responsibility falls in your hands to notice and contribute to the well being of those around you. The most important aspect of that responsibility is noticing signs. These vary incredibly for different individuals, but often revolve around unexpected wounds or scars, blood stains (on clothing, bedding, rags, tissues, …), sharp objects or tools that could be used to self harm, etc. Behaviors can also sometimes be attributed to self harm, despite them not being definitive factors on their own. A self-harmer could cover up more than usual, despite warmer weather and become defensive of these noticeable changes in their behavior. Self Harm or depression may also lead to isolation from peers or family members, just as it may encourage a victim to become more outgoing for fear of being alone, or to compensate for possible emotional distance.
Another aspect that is rarely discussed is the affect that knowing and trying to help a self-harmer has on a person. Negativity is poisonous, and in a strange way, contagious. Seeing someone who means the world to you and who you trust and need in your life hurt themselves is probably one of the hardest things someone could go through. It is incredibly difficult to make someone understand their self-worth, and it’s, sadly, not something that can be forced. It takes time. Meanwhile, offering a shoulder to cry on, being there to listen to their stories and concerns no matter the time of day are some things you could do.
It’s impossible to not feel powerless, or the constant negativity the self harmer may subject your life to. Decisions have to be made; are you ready to be there for this person no matter what? It doesn’t have to mean you can’t feel and let them know how you are reacting to their actions. However, it does translate to a bit of self-censorship, simply out of fear: the last thing you want is to hurt this person you care so very much about. Balance has to be found, and you are allowed mistakes, but you are also allowed distance.
If being around this person makes you feel depressed, or affects you in a negative fashion that makes it hard to live your own life in parallel with a loved one who is self harming, you are allowed distance. It’s hard to explain to that person, and it might be hard for you to know you’re not being fully present. Nonetheless, your own mental health and well-being is what you should be concerned with first. Despite some possible misunderstanding and arguments, your loved one will eventually understand; they want the best for you too.
Dealing personally with self harm is a different story. Despite knowing it is bad for you, addiction is a serious illness that deserves to be coped and dealt with by professionals. Some measures of recovery can be taken and do help to prevent additional self harm. A well known method of coping is snapping hair ties on wrists when self harming urges arise, hopefully deterring and letting them out in non harmful manners. Additionally, self harmers could pour red food coloring into ice cubes before letting them freeze and pressing them onto their skin; this creates both a visual and a sensory experience that simulates self harm and soothes the mind when urges may come up. Lastly, the idea of drawing on your skin or creating patterns where you would usually self harm has become a popular way to recover from self harm addiction. An innovative idea called “The Butterfly Project” was though of to counter self harm and to offer support to those who suffer from it. The idea is to draw butterflies on initial scars to prevent yourself from self-harming. Some name the butterflies after their loved ones, reminding them or who they have to be strong for, some simply tell themselves cutting again would be killing the butterfly and failing. It is an idea, and all positive ideas to deal with self harm should be worth a try. The project also includes blogs and websites with real-life stories submitted by anonymous users; some have recovered, some haven’t. Despite the issues some are still facing, the point of the movement is to make self harmers realize they are not alone (http://butterfly-project.tumblr.com/).
It isn’t easy, but self harm is not the answer, and scars are nothing but a symbol of strength.