A Tortured Soul and Self-Harm by Gemma Wood, the Head of Counselling & Psychotherapy at the Medical and Psychological clinic, Cortijo Care Marbella, based in San Pedro.
Self-harm doesn’t mean I’m weak, it means I’m hurting.
Self-harming has recently been thrust into the limelight again, after it was revealed that fashion designer and long-term partner of Mick Jagger, L’Wren Scott, had been self-harming in the weeks before she committed suicide.
Other famous self-harmers include Hollywood actor Johnny Depp: “My body is a journal in a way. It’s like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself.”
The English comedian Russell Brand opened up about self-harming as a teen saying, “I get fixated when I am bleeding. When I cut myself, the drama of it calms me down.”
So what is self-harm?
It is a way of expressing very deep distress. Often people do not know why they do it. It’s a means of communicating what can’t be put into words or even into thoughts and has been escribed as an inner scream.
Many people associate self-harm with cutting. It is actually a much broader term. People may injure or poison themselves by scratching, cutting or burning their skin, hit themselves against objects, pull out their hair, take a drug overdose or swallow/put things inside themselves. It may also take on a less obvious form, including taking unnecessary risks, staying in an abusive relationship, developing an eating disorder or addiction to drugs/alcohol or simply someone not looking after their own emotional or physical needs.
These responses may help someone to cope with feelings that overwhelm them; painful emotions, such as rage, sadness, emptiness, grief, self-hatred, fear, loneliness and guilt. These feelings can build up inside, until they become unbearable and the only way to find relief is to self-harm, distracting from the emotional pain by concentrating on a physical one. But, if the underlying emotional issues are not dealt with, each episode may only provide temporary relief. Remember, self-injury is a sign of distress not madness.
Why do people harm themselves?
Self-harm may serve a number of purposes at the same time. You may selfinjure to punish yourself if you feel you have done something wrong or because you feel you have not measured up in some way to your own standards. You may self-injure to tell others how you feel or it may even be a way to communicate to someone close to you about your suffering. It can also happen when you feel disconnected from others or yourself; it may be used to make you feel something. If you have suicidal thoughts or urges, you may self-injure to avoid acting on these.
How will you know I am hurting, if you cannot see my pain? To wear it on my body tells what words cannot explain.
The truth is everyone can be at risk from self-harming at some point in their life. Popular culture would have you believe that predominantly young girls self-harm, however the majority of my patients who self-harm are actually both male and female adults.
Any difficult experience can cause someone to self-harm. Common causes include:
- Pressures at school or work
- Money worries
- Sexual, physical or emotional abuse
- Confusion about sexuality
- Breakdown of relationships
- Difficult feelings, such as depression, anxiety, anger or numbness, experienced as part of a mental health problem.
Self-harm in adolescents
This is quite commonly seen in boarding schools where competitiveness could apply not only to academic work, appearance or popularity but also to self-harm. When working with teens it is important to look at the child’s history to see if he or she is susceptible to further mental illness. For some, it is simply an experimental part of their lives, for others it is something much deeper
Self-injury is not a life-sentence, and people can and do stop self-injuring. The important thing is to start talking to someone you trust; it could be a friend, family member or an expert. Remember, it takes time for people to learn that their feelings won’t destroy them. The most helpful treatment for people who selfharm is any form of talking therapy.