There are without doubt numerous myths or incorrect beliefs out there concerning self-harm in its various forms and those who suffer from it.
Personally I think this is quite natural given the covert and often secretive nature of self-harm and the fact that mental-illness (for want of a better phrase) has always had a certain amount of misunderstanding, lack of understanding and also stigma attached to it.
This is of course a sad state of affairs but what we also, in my opinion, need to be mindful of is the fact that very often some of those who suffer from self-harm can themselves be subject to these misconceptions and this can have a very direct and unhealthy impact on; how they view themselves, their actions and indeed their potential to obtain the very help they need.
So no matter what the reason is for these myths, misunderstandings, or misconceptions dispelling them and providing accurate and correct information is essential if we are to fully address this issue.
So here are some of the most common myths and misunderstandings along with the related facts/truths…
Myth: People who self-harm are just seeking attention!
Fact: Generally speaking people who self-harm do so in secret. For someone who suffers from self-harm, expressing or sharing this fact can be extremely difficult. Often because of the fear and/or shame and very often as a result of this very same misunderstanding/myth. Understanding this is a very real step in dealing with it correctly.
Myth: People who self-harm do so to manipulate others!
Fact: The truth is that whilst it is possible that this may sometimes (albeit very seldom) be the case, the plain simple fact is that this is the exception to the rule so to speak. Let’s remember that generally speaking people who self-harm do so in secret. However, even in a situation where this is the case, the more healthy approach is not to focus on the method chosen as much as to consider why that person is feeling the need to do this.
Myth: People who self-harm aren’t really that serious or their problems that serious if they don’t hurt themselves really badly.
Fact: As strange as it may sound, Self-Harm is not about harming yourself but about coping. Additionally it would very wrong to believe that people who self-harm want to do so. Very often it is seen as the only way to cope and let us not forget that it is fundamentally counter-intuitive and thus the need to inflict harm to oneself in order to cope is very often accompanied with the intuition not to harm oneself. Therefore the severity of the harm cannot be seen as an indication of the severity of the difficulties faced.
Myth: Self-Harm is something that only teenagers do and mostly just teenage girls.
Fact: Self-Harm covers many different forms and is neither gender nor age specific.
Myth: Self-Harm is all about cutting isn’t it.
Fact: No not at all. Cutting is in fact just one form of self-harm and whilst it may be the one that the media seems to focus on there are in fact many other forms of it.
Myth: People who Self-Harm just want to commit suicide but can’t bring themselves to do it.
Fact: To say that no-one who suffers from self-harm ever wants to commit suicide or to die would be just as inaccurate as to say that everyone who suffers from self-harm does want to commit suicide or to die. The truth is that for many self-harm is a coping mechanism used in order to survive.
Myth: I lived with or knew someone who used to self-harm so I know all about self-harm.
Fact: That is the same as saying I knew a brain surgeon so I know all about brain surgery. The fact is that you don’t. Whilst it is true that you may have witnessed part of it or even experienced some of the pain, concerns and frustrations experienced by someone caring for a person who self-harms, it does not make you an expert and there is in fact a whole myriad of reasons why folk self-harm just as there are multiple ways in which folk do so.
Myth: Once you start to Self-Harm it will be with you for life.
Fact: Whilst there are many underlying reasons for someone choosing to Self-Harm, in many ways it is often chosen, whether consciously or sub-consciously, as a way of coping. It is without doubt not the best way of coping and indeed other better ways of coping and indeed addressing the issues causing this response are available. Freedom from this is therefore possible.
Myth: Self-Harm is not a recognized condition or disorder.
Fact: Self-Harm is indeed recognized nowadays and there is a growing amount of professional help out there.