Self-harm didn’t feature at all in my childhood. The notion seemed absurd and reserved for soap operas trying to shock. But, as the years have past the occurrence seems to have become so much more commonplace amongst our younger population. I find myself questioning if self-harm is on the increase or has the subject just become a little less taboo. Why is this condition taking such a tight grip of our future generation and what steps can be taken to start on the road to recovery from self-harm?
I was recently introduced to a stunningly attractive young lady. A sporting professional who from a distance appeared the model picture of excellence. But look a little closer and you see her tightly holding her cuffs, ensuring her sleeves don’t rise as she walks. Telltale signs of the beast that is self-harm threatening to reveal itself around her neckline. It can be hard to understand what would drive a person to mutilate their beauty like this.
Self-harm can take lots of forms such as cutting, burning, hair-pulling and even poisoning. Once this behavior starts it can quickly become a compulsion that is difficult to stop. Self-harmers often feel unable to explain their reasons for hurting themselves and they usually try very hard to conceal it, so it’s rarely a cry for attention. Young people may find this a way to release overwhelming emotions, there are certainly links between feelings such as sadness and self-harm. It’s not uncommon for self-harmers to be experiencing bullying, be under too much pressure to do well or being emotionally abused. However, the list can include so much more and what’s more important is that all these issues bring up feelings of low self-esteem, sadness and a lack of control over their lives.
The sporting professional certainly fits with this profile. At a young age, she was given a sporting scholarship to attend one of the best schools in the country. This opportunity would have been seen my many as nothing more than a fantastic achievement but for this young teenager, it felt like a huge ball of pressure. Plucked away from perceived normality with no apparent choice. Competing with peers that seemed more accomplished, attractive and intelligent. She quickly began to experience feelings of low confidence, loneliness and that recognizable lack of control over her life. She described the self-harm as a moment of pleasure. Seeing the affect the cutting had on her skin and the pain it caused, for a split second made her feel good. What needs to be understood when hearing this is that the physical pain is an easier feeling to deal with than the emotional pain that’s often behind it.
In 2002 the BMJ reported 6.9% of young people may try to hurt themselves on purpose before the age of 16. However, more recently The World Health Organization reported this had increased to 20%. Challenging issues have always been there for young people but with the introduction of social media and the internet, there is an added pressure and a heightened awareness of perfection that could be achieved. Modern technology has given an ability to communicate like never before and although largely this is a positive development with it must come a warning. Negative feedback can be received from a faceless peer in a matter of seconds and damaging advice can be shared to 1000’s with the click of a button. Now more than ever we need to carefully guide the next generation down the right roads. Teaching them how to cope with modern day struggles and offering a number of accessible avenues where support is readily available.
To start on the road to recovery from self-harm, there are a number of initial steps that can be taken. Consider speaking with your family doctor or other trusted medical professional, they are there to offer the support you really need. Keep a diary of your self-harm to help understand when and why you hurt yourself. Take good care of yourself; allow relaxation, pleasures and time for yourself. It’s what you need and deserve. Think about your living situation, if it’s emotionally or physically unsafe this will make it difficult to stop self-harming. The first step may be to plan how you might change your situation.
If you’re thinking how to support a friend of family member recognize how distressed the person is…even if they don’t seem to be and encourage their attempts to control self-harm. Don’t despair if they fail to control it. The most important thing is to let them know you are there for them.
Nikki W is a Clinical Psychotherapist and Life Coach passionate about aiding others to overcome life’s challenges. Visit www.bristoltherapy.com for more information and follow her on twitter @NikkiWebber2.