Dispelling The Myths.

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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4 thoughts on “Dispelling The Myths.

  1. I would like to ask a question, not necissarily relating to this particular post, but about self-harming…

    I have struggled with how to ask this and figure it’s easier to just out and ask…

    Actually as I sit here and try and type it’s not actually a question but rather I wish to relay an experience and perhaps get feedback.

    The other night I was having a very difficult night and my mind was reeling and emotions were flaring and as I lay in bed all I could think about and the images that came to mind were of self-harming.
    Instead of praying and taking my thoughts elsewhere (which isn’t always easy or even possible to do at times)

    I allowed myself to continue to explore the thoughts and I felt such a calming…the act of simply imagining some of the things I have done to self-harm seemed to make me feel more in control and was able to become more calm and relaxed.

    Have you ever experienced this? Is it wrong to imagine these things? It’s better then actually doing right?…

    • boldkevin says:

      Hi Bev,

      From what I gather from both my own experience and also from speaking to others what you report as experiencing is not that uncommon at all.

      In terms of your quetions, “Have you ever experienced this? Is it wrong to imagine these things? It’s better then actually doing right?”

      My personal answers would have to be that yes I have experienced this but that no I tend not, where I have any control, to allow myself to explore these thoughts and I generally try a distraction or defocusing technique at these times.

      Remember that self-harm is often a coping technique that is employed and so when we are in a situation like the one you describe, finding an alternative and healthier technique – or if possible directly addressing the issues that gave rise to the need to cope -is more beneficial and advisable in my opinion.

      A friend of mine was trying to lose weight and complained that she had been out walking and passed a cake shop and suddenly got the urge to go in and buy a cake. Responding to the urge she did indeed go in an proceded to buy herself a really big fresh cream eclair and then took it home and ate it. After which she went through hours of guilt over having done so. “I knew I should never have bought that darned cake.” she told me mournfully.

      “Actually your mistake was going into the cake shop in the first place.” I told her. “After that the chances of your coming out without having bought a cake were slim at best.”

      In the situation you described I get the impression that you did not progress to actual self-harming but it could be argued that you have by allowing yourself to explore the thoughts, and indeed by finding gratification in the imagery/process, simply re-affirmed what I would consider to be a wrong thinking – that it is beneficial to you.

      Many years ago when I first shared my secret of self-harmig with someone, I was incouraged to ping an elastic band against my skin on the tender part of the wrist or to draw red lines on myself with a washable marker as they were cosidered to be the ‘lesser of the two evils’ so to speak. I am of course not meaning to imply that self-harmig is deliberately evil but you know what I mean.

      Currently it would be argued that actually neither of those alternative techniques are advisable as both mimic and thereby in some way encourage in part the whole approach of self-harming whereas actually better techniques are available.

      So no I certaily wouldn’t encourage allowing yourself to explore these thoughts and no I really wouldn’t want to get into the “it’s better than actually doing it” argument as it is very easy to find false or unhealthy justification in that.

      I hope this all helps.

      Kind Regards,

      • It does help and I suppose it makes sense that even if it is “better”, it certainly isn’t the best choice for dealing with things. I did not proceed to actual harming and so I suppose I was justifying to myself that by not progressing this time that the imagery was not harmful.
        As you pointed out though, it does mimic and encourages and therefore is probably not so healthy.
        Thank you

  2. Lance Koop says:

    This kind of truly clarified our problem, many thanks!

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