The phenomenon that is self-harming — a silent problem — has received growing awareness.
What is it that makes people harm themselves?
We can very easily give way to this question, pretending it doesn’t exist. The fact is, it’s a problem for many — those trapped by it and their loved ones. Some self harm because they’re scared and urgently seek help, whilst others have more clinical problems that only trained psychiatric physicians should be dealing with.
The former is the main focus of this discussion.
The real reasons that people self harm are a diversion away from the behaviour, but such a diversion is necessary. Establishing the cause, and dealing with it, is vital.
People, and more often young people, who are caught up in the cycle of self harm will feel trapped and out of control. They’ll engage in the behaviour and perhaps want to be noticed for it, but hide the signs of it all the same; it can be seen as a cry for help. They may want it ‘discovered’ by the right person. They may want to be discovered or not. It may be their ‘secret’ they have perfect control over. Bad control is seen as better than no control.
A Matter of Control
There is insidiousness about this behaviour similar to those behaviours known to addiction. Self harming may give rise to the sort of control a self-harmer richly aspires to have; that for which they feel they don’t presently have, but yearn for.
Everybody desires to be in control of their lives.
Indeed, for the person who doesn’t feel they have control, a depressive episode is an altogether possible reality.
This is not about the sort of control that we would surrender to God; it’s the control relative to wellbeing in life. It’s safe to say that everyone needs this sort of control over their lives.
So, it’s vital for the person self harming to be able to ultimately regain or reclaim the ability of control — the esteemed confidence required to feel like a success in one’s life; to chart one’s own waters toward it.
How to Help
Helping a person who’s tortured by thoughts of harming themselves is first-of-all about knowing of its happening, then doing something about it via loving challenge.
It is imperative that a person is able to face up to the reality that stares them down; they’ll know the honest truth deep down. Sharing this truth with important others is vital. Taking such self-acknowledged information to trained counsellors, or people who can help, is the goal.
Because self harming can lead to other behaviours of self destructive nature — most obviously, though not often, suicide — it’s crucial that even the most minor of cases is taken seriously.
What is most needed is an empathetic attitude, seasoned with the truth — to continue to self harm is not appropriate under any circumstances and help is required. Either they have to confess to close others (family) or we’ll do it for them — in love. The family must also not ostracise the person or their behaviour, but be prepared to understand and help. This can be difficult; often the family is at the centre of issues. If there is likely to be no family support, a close and more mature mentor might be an alternative. Accountability partners are needed.
But just as a lack of control might be the core issue, we’re best trying to empower the person self harming with options. We don’t want to back them against the wall, but we want to bring them to a decision to do something about it, now.
Love has, and will usually find, a way.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
A Letter: Dear Self Harm.
Graphic Credit: Discovery Fit & Health.