Out of the dozens of addiction articles I have posted, the subject of self-harm is (by far) the most popular. Why does it cause so much interest?
My husband and I watch a Showtime series called “The Affair”. It is slow TV watching at its best. If you assume it’s a drama about cheating couples, you are wrong, because the title fools you. I would describe the show as a “character-driven mystery”.
In the first few episodes, there is a scene that shows, one of the lead characters cutting her upper thigh (with a razor blade). When the camera zooms in, you see dozens of old scars, indicating, this is her “go to” method of self-medicating. It’s obvious to me this is her untreated method of coping with past trauma. However, I think that the average viewer was left confused and horrified.
What does this have to do with anything? Good question. The cutting was never brought up again. What a pity. They missed an excellent opportunity to shed life on prevalent but much misunderstood disorder. No wonder people want to read about self-injury. Nobody talks about it.
Stigma and societal shamming prevent people from getting the help they need.
More than cutting
Taking a closer look at self-injury reveals that there are many forms which include:
- Starving or purging
- Ingesting toxic substances
Self-Injury Has a Contagious Element
I know that sounds weird, but it can spread in a contagious like manner. However, that is not a reason not to talk. In one of the documentaries I watched (see below) the doctor said “it’s not if you talk about it, it’s how you talk about it.
There many websites and social media outlets that are dedicated to self-infliction. Some are created to help others recover but sadly some seek to promote self-injury.
What’s worrying is the online culture that allows and even encourages teens to share images of self harm. In a community where users compare self-inflicted injuries, a phenomenon can develop where users compete to have the worst scars or the deepest cuts.These communities create a disturbing bond between users, where self-worth is based on one’s ability to be the best at being unwell.
People who purposely hurt themselves are not seeking attention or trying to commit suicide. Self-Infliction is different from attempted suicide – it is a method to cope with pain. The severity of the wound doe not define the level of pain (or sickness). Self-injury is self-injury, regardless if it leaves a scar or not. This disorder occurs in all ages, genders, races, ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Many people who have a self-abuse disorder are diagnosed automatically with “borderline personality disorder” By definition, that means that the patient is extremely manipulative and anything they say is not to be trusted. It also means that the person can not distinguish between negative and positive attention. This is not true. One of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder is self-mutalation – not the other way around.
Self-infliction is not a trend or a fashion statement. Some people associate this disorder with a certain subculture. You might hear it called an “emo” thing. Emo is a goth like style, popular with young people But people have been using self-injury to deal with pain, long before these “trends” in social media started.
Many times a self-infliction article or video will have a “trigger warning”. Ostensibly, this is done so a reader will not be provoked into a relapse. These warnings have been around for a long time and are most commonly associated with trauma and abuse. The purpose is to warn readers that the article contains a disturbing theme. The author feels that the subject matter may trigger traumatic memories for sufferers. It is a little controversial. Some people view the warnings as a means of protecting the mental health of their readers or simply a common courtesy. Others find this protocol completely unnecessary and utterly annoying. An example of a trigger warning is: “TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of trauma and may be triggering to some people.”
There is another form of self-injury called Dermatillomania.
Officially accepted as a disorder in 2013, it is the compulsive habit of picking your own skin. It typically causes skin damage. People suffering from this disorder often wear long sleeves, makeup and band-aids to cover up their scarring and wounds. It is linked to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It occurs mostly in woman. The exact causes of skin picking disorder are unknown, but it is thought that both emotional, genetic and environmental factors contribute to such conditions.
There are many medications available. They include:
There are also many behavioral and cognitive treatment options. The point it that you can get better. The important things is to talk to someone.