Self-harm can be a really sensitive topic, especially when it comes to the argument about whether or not it’s for attention. Some people might not agree with me, but I do believe that self-harm can sometimes be for attention, but not necessarily in a negative way. Let me elaborate…
I started self-harming at a young age, I was about eleven-years-old when I first started. Back then, whenever someone told me I was doing it for attention, I would freak out and it would only make me want to do it more, but after several years of treatment, I have learned that I was asking for attention, not all the time but some of them. I remember threatening to cut myself if someone didn’t change the channel. I was a very manipulative kid and I used this to my advantage. Now, the fact I used this as a way to get attention shows the beginning of my diagnoses, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It was one of the earliest signs that I was struggling with this type of disorder. People who self-harm are usually suffering from some type of mental disorder and the injury can be an early symptom of something much bigger. You should never shame someone or make fun of them for doing something dangerous to themselves, this is a part of having a mental illness and should be treated with care, not anger.
Not everyone self-harms for attention, there is a chemical release when someone self-harms that people can easily get addicted to. A rush of calm releases after the self-harming action as endorphins run throughout the body. The body prepares itself for more physical pain by releasing chemicals that numb the thought process and prevent you from feeling pain, this puts the body into flight or fight mode and suddenly the reason for self-harm isn’t as relevant anymore.
It’s like starting smoking, you don’t think it will get too far and then several years down the road you’re still struggling. The best way to prevent someone from self-harming is to intervene beforehand. This way the person can deal with their emotional, psychological, and environmental problems without relying on this negative coping strategy. The longer someone self-harms, the harder it is to stop, just like any addiction. Again, this should be treated with care, not anger or ignorance.
I want to warn you, however, that self-harm treatment can also be problematic if taken lightly. After I started self-harming I became addicted and couldn’t stop, it was no longer for the attention, I needed the release. However, when my family would coddle this poor coping strategy by getting me a treat to feel better, putting the bandages on, or feeling pity for me, I would feel the validation of my disorder and therefore feel comforted by them. This became a sort of way to let my family know when I was struggling, and a way to be close with them. At the time of my highest self-harm, we were going through a lot as a group so when I didn’t get the care I needed I let them know.
Sadly, I’m now twenty-two and I still self-harm. I live on my own now and throughout the ten years I’ve been struggling with this, it’s only gotten more dangerous. I rarely self-harm now, but when I do I usually needs medical intervention because I’ve built up a tolerance and learned where to hit. This is another way that cutting is like an addiction; you build a tolerance and start to depend on it. It’s incredibly hard to stop, but it is possible.
Many people go through sober periods for years without any self-harm but when they relapse they give up on the road to recovery because they “lost” all those years. I want to point out that if you self-harm after a long sober period, you did not lose those days, you became stronger each time you denied the urge. Recovery is not linear, you will hit bumps in the road. It’s important to keep at it because each time the periods of sobriety will get longer, and longer.
If you struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, talk to your doctor right away. Seek medical attention when needed to avoid infection (people have lost limbs due to severe self-harm and infection). If feeling suicidal talk to your doctor, call 911, or go to your local emergency room.