Many of us carry the scars of our troubles on the inside. But what about those of us who carry the scars on the outside? Self-injury, also known as self-harm, is a dangerous behaviour, in which an individual deliberately hurts themselves in order to deal with the emotional pain that they are suffering. Self-injurious behaviour is not only troubling because of the harm that they are causing to themselves, but because of the stigma that is attached to those who self-injure.
Just a few of the many taunts and jeers that are ever present for self-injurers. These labels are not only hurtful, but often times they amplify the self-loathing behaviour. Bullying is a large contributor in the continuation of self-injury. However, it is not the only contributing force. Emotional turmoil, unresolved emotional pain, as well as past and present emotional trauma can trigger self-harming behaviour. It can be used as an escape, similar to drugs and alcohol. That is how the behaviour is most often described by those who self-injure.
That is why Self Injury Awareness Day was created. To bring it to the surface. To allow those suffering in silence to speak out and be heard. To give them a voice they so often don’t have.
There are many questions that arise when it comes to self-harm. Especially from the loved ones of those that self-harm. What does it look like? Who is at risk? What do I say? What do I do? It can be a very confusing time for both the person who is self-injuring and their loved ones. The most important thing to remember is to remain open and understanding, no matter how hard that may seem. It is important that the person who is self-harming feels understood and not judged. It is also important to not condone the behaviour, as it is symptomatic of maladaptive coping skills.
So what does self-injury look like? It comes in many forms: cutting, bruising, scarring, burning, branding, and scratching. Any behaviour that one can use to intentionally cause harm to their own body is considered self-injury. While the injuries themselves are not always apparent, there are signs that someone is self-injuring. They might cover up the marks with excessive clothing (even in hot weather) or make up. They might seclude themselves more often, and gradually spend more and more time alone. If a loved one’s behaviour is troubling to you, the best thing that you can do is ask them if they want to talk. They may not want to open up, but just knowing that someone is willing to listen is often times more than enough. All you can do is be patient.
There is no one person that is more likely to self-injure. And it is hard to know the exact statistics about those who do self-harm, for obvious reasons. It was once thought that only young women self-harm, but the truth is that it is a behaviour that affects many people from many different backgrounds, ages, races, and of any gender. Anyone can engage in self-injury. And that is one of the most tough pieces of reality for people to accept. That is why it is so important to have Self Injury Awareness Day. It is to help dispel the myths and stigmas attached to self-harm and to let those that are self-injuring that they are not alone.
So what can you do or say when a loved one tells you that they self-injure? Or what should you do or say when you find out that they self-injure? There is no right answer. There is no one way to act or right thing to say. As mentioned above, the best thing that you can do is offer support and remain calm and understanding. The last thing that they need is to feel judged. And it is important that you make it clear that you will be there to help them seek out the help and support that they will need. Staying strong is a difficult thing to do when someone you love and care about tells you that they hurt themselves, but it is one of the most important things that you can do during this trying period.
Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.
– Anne Lamott