Tuesday, 4 March 2014

When is self harm self harm?

Figured I'd attempt to write a more balanced awareness post as I'm not sure me going off on a personal rant helps anyone. It's just that I find thinking about it too much to be quite triggering and therefore just write whatever crap enters my brain lol.

Anyway. What is self harm?
At first glance it seems simple. Most people when they think of self harm will automatically think of cutting. If you thought a little longer you might come up with things like burning etc (Let's not list ways to hurt yourself!).

But what about more ambiguous ways of hurting yourself. Things like punching walls, hitting yourself or similar. It's a scenario in which strong emotions lead to actions which damage your body, so is that any different to 'traditional' self harm? Somehow this is deemed as more socially acceptable however a fact which could lead to underlying problems going unrecognised.

Step back further and you have people who use substances such as food, alcohol or tobacco to manage emotions. And I don't just mean on the level of eating disorders or addiction. Many people will over it under eat in times of stress, or go out and get smashed to deal with a difficult week at work. And very few people these can claim to be unaware of the damage junk food and binge drinking have on the body. As for smoking the warnings are everywhere including on the packets. It's less immediate, but it's still dealing with emotions by concisely engaging in activities which are known to cause harm. And that's without considering the short term passion of hangovers and fluctuating blood sugars.

Further, we have things such as 'risk taking behaviour'. Risk is a part of love of course and many people enjoy activities such as extreme sports, skateboarding, fast cars. At what point does managed risk cross over to putting yourself at  disproportionate risk? How many people push it to a level they know is dangerous in order to achieve that 'buzz'? And to what extent can that be viewed as manipulating emotions via (the risk of) harming oneself?

Similarly what about over working, over exercising, pushing yourself beyond your personal limits? With consequences such as decreased immunity, exhaustion, muscle injuries, head aches and so on. We can probably include lack of self care here. Vitamin deficiencies, lack of sleep etc etc etc. Failure to have control medical conditions, missing medications, missing appointments, not visiting the doctor for potential ailments, diabetics not controlling their blood sugars, people not following their special diets (lactose free, gluten free).

All this is before we get into issues of unhealthy relationships, self sabotage and the like, even procrastination (and everyone must have done that at some point in their lives). These things may not cause physical harm but they can lead to avoidable emotional distress and cause problems in your daily life or damage your chances of future success. For example, we procrastinate now in full knowledge that we're going to be hideously stressed when the deadline or whatever comes round.

Self harm is often viewed as deviant, selfish, abnormal and as something rare and out of the ordinary.

So hands up who hasn't done at least one of those things at one time or another?
Of course I'm not advocating self harm (in no more pro sh than I am pro ana or pro suicide), it's not ok and it shouldn't be ignored. There are degrees of severity and certain behaviours naturally carry more risk. What I'm trying to show is that the concept of doing something damaging in order to make yourself feel better in the moment isn't actually that alien. I'm not suggesting everyone who's ever been out and got hammered needs medical help, just that there are parallels and it's worth remembering them when trying to relate to something that is often labeled unnatural. Someone who's self harming certainly shouldn't be ignored but nor should they be judged or criticised or ostracised.

The important thing will always be the motivation and emotions behind the behaviour. The behaviour itself is irrelevant (Asides from any necessary medical intervention of course) if you're feeling shit enough to want to hurt yourself that is the proof you need help not the line of scars up your arm. X

Ps. Image from self-injury shark on tumblr.