Self harm - a cry for help
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
With a recent report finding that 1 in 12 young people self-harm, the time has come to square up to this cry for help from some of the most vulnerable in society. Many parents and friends feel helpless when faced with the reality that a loved one is self-harming. You want to help but you are not sure how too. Do you respond with anger and annoyance or do you try to ignore it dismissing it as a phase or attention seeking. Whatever else it is, surely it is a cry for help, one person reaching out saying that they cannot cope with their feelings. Often they will hate themselves having a very low opinion of themselves and no-one seems to understand.
So how does someone get to a stage where they deliberately harm themselves? Often self-harm is mistaken for an attempt at taking their life. In reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. The self-harmer is using the behaviour to cope with their life. It is easy from the outside to judge them as having nothing to be worried about, but from the world of the self-harmer they are not worthy, often they are to blame for some act or situation (perhaps abuse or not living up to expectations) or they are very depressed. One of the better ways that self-harm has been described is as anger at oneself for what you have done but directed inwards at yourself. It is a way of self-punishment a way of letting out some of the angry feeling, relief until the pressure builds again. So while like all risky behaviour there can be accidents do not assume that a self-harmer is trying to take their own life.
Finding treatment that is successful is difficult, because society finds it so hard to talk about it can be difficult to talk to friends or families either about the self-harming or the feelings that underlie that self-harm. There are groups and resources within the NHS, but often these are heavily oversubscribed. There are many steps to a successful treatment, medicines can help with some of the compulsive behaviours, but talking therapies have a big part to play. As self-harming is a coping mechanism, it is the underlying issues that have to be addressed and often that will take time. So part of the therapy may be to discuss how the person will cope during the therapy. Care of the person will be central perhaps substituting less risky behaviours and of taking care of any wounds. It may be they stop or not self-harm in the home or the resource centre. Each person will be different. The self-harmer will have to want to stop, because rather like an addiction it will take a lot from them in terms of working on self-acceptance on taking responsibility for themselves and the commitment and courage that a cure will take.
It is possible to recover from self-harming; the key is to want to change and to use medical and counselling resources to address the issues and to build self-confidence and self-belief. Many have gone before so take the first steps today, resources like your GP, a counsellor or one of the on-line self-help groups are a good place to start
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