Self Harm Myths

On a previous post, when I talked about how to help someone with self harm urges, I realised that there may be a few misconceptions surrounding the behaviour.  Self harm is such a complex issue and at times can be confusing for the person engaging in it, as well as the people who are supporting them.  It is often clouded in mystery as many people choose to not speak about their thoughts and feelings around self harm.  This covering up only helps to fuel the myths surrounding self harming behaviour and those who engage in the behaviours.

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Image Credit

Below are a list of common misconceptions the public often have about self harm and the people who struggle with it.

  1. People who self harm are just doing it for attention. False.  Many people who self harm go to great lengths to hide their behaviour.  Even if someone does do it to gain someone’s attention, there is often underlying issues that lead to the person crying out for help.
  2. People who self harm are trying to kill themselves. False. Self harm is a coping mechanism, a destructive one, but the intent is not to die.  The desired effect varies from person to person but the most common reasons are to feel something, to help distract from intense feelings or to feel numb.  Sometimes a person who self harms can accidentally commit suicide but that is often not the case.
  3. People who self harm are dangerous.  False.  I find this one the most strange.  The first word of the phrase is *self*, which would indicate that the person intends to hurt themselves rather than anyone else.  Of course they may indirectly hurt loved ones who don’t understand what is going on, however, people who self harm are not known to physically harm other people.
  4. It’s just a phase, they’ll grow out of it.  False.  While self harm is something that often starts in the teenage years, it does continue into adulthood if adequate support is not given.  Self harm is a symptom of an underlying problem and until that problem is taken care of, the person will more than likely continue to turn to self harm as a coping mechanism.
  5. Self harm is something that only Emos or Goths do.  False.  Self harm doesn’t discriminate.  You can’t determine if something has or will self harm because of the way they dress or the music that they listen to.  Self harm isn’t a fashion statement that is toted around as being the new *in* thing.  Self harm affects people from all walks of life.

If you are struggling with self harm, you don’t need to do it alone.  I urge anyone who is thinking about self harm to contact their GP or give the wonderful people at LifeLine a call on 13 11 14

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34 thoughts on “Self Harm Myths

    1. Tegan Post author

      Yes, I can’t imagine they would feel too good if someone said that to them when they had reached out for help.

      Reply
  1. EssentiallyJess

    I was so angry a few months ago with a few people commenting on a mutual friend talking about suicide ‘just for attention.’ What right do any of us have to judge the motives of a mentally ill person (or any person for that matter). And what if you’re wrong? What could happen if you don’t take any cry for help seriously? That comment always frustrates me no end.
    Thanks for sharing Tegan xx

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Yes that is always in the back of my mind too..what if we ignore their pleas and something happens. I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself.

      Reply
  2. Alison

    Excellent post again Tegan. Re the words “just doing it for attention”, I remember being on the F.A.T. city course – Frustration Anxiety and Tension in young people with learning difficulties. We watched a speech by the founder, and in it he explained how much he loathed the dismissive way some teachers would say to him that a child’s was acting in certain ways “for attention”. His response was Then GIVE THEM SOME.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep that’s exactly right..I don’t think I have ever heard of someone suddenly stopping self harming because oh look no one is paying attention any more.

      Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      It’s not always easy but I am glad that by speaking up about it that I can have the opportunity to help others.

      Reply
  3. Emma Fahy Davis

    Once again I find myself relating, though self-harming hasn’t been my coping strategy of choice these same myths are also often afforded to so many other facets of mental illness. With the OCD I often get ‘well you know those things are silly so why don’t you just stop?!’, as if it were that simple.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep, there are definitely some similarities. I think when people insinuate that it’s easy to stop that it really is insulting to our intelligence. It’s like they think that we enjoy feeling this way.

      Reply
  4. Psych Babbler

    I hate the assumption that it is for attention! You won’t believe the number of times I have had parents or other professionals ask me over and over whether I’m sure the client is not doing it for attention. I also had a client of mine being told by ED staff to start taking responsibility after she presented with an OD. Sigh. People need a whole lot of education!! Thanks for sharing this with the world…more and more people need to know the facts and not blindly believe the myths.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      I have had ED staff tell me to just suck it up etc. It really is a stupid mentality to have about someone who is struggling.

      Reply
  5. Deb @ Home life simplified

    excellent post! like previous commenter said – if anyone was doing something for attention should we not then give it to them? cries for attention or help are just that. in this case i know it is not for attention but the people who dismiss others simply because they THINK it is for attention completely lack compassion.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep and it has always been my thought that if someone is going to these lengths to get attention, then maybe something more serious is going on.

      Reply
  6. Becky from BeckyandJames.com

    Great post. It’s a hard topic to talk about and I applaud you shining a light on the myths. I feel people often just use these preconceived myths to brush the whole issue under the rug because it can be confronting to learn someone does self harm.

    Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      It can be really confronting, even with my personal experience I often feel at a loss as to what to say when someone shares that they self harm.

      Reply
    1. Tegan Post author

      It’s so strange..imagine saying some of these things to someone with a physical ailment like a broken arm!

      Reply
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