Many myths have a kernel of truth within them, and this is as true of self injury myths as it is of others. I have read, over the years, many webpages talking about these, but I have come to believe there is some truth in them. The most commonly trotted out myths are:
- Self injury is attention-seeking. I have addressed this in this post but it bears repeating. I know that I, when I was self injuring, desperately wanted someone to help me, someone to notice so that I didn’t have to feel so bad all the time. I hid my wounds from the public, but there was definitely a part of me which wanted others to notice, to help me. Was I attention seeking? It’s not like I was dancing naked in the street, demanding others look at me, I was simply wanting help – from those I loved. I didn’t do it to get noticed, I didn’t go round saying “look at me, I self harm” – but I did hope they might see. I don’t think it is attention-seeking behaviour – but it made me realise I needed help, and was the single most easy way for me to tell others I hurt without needing to use words. People take notice if you are scarred – which they might not if you appear looking normal even if you say you are suicidal. I found the courage to go to my doctor after I started self harming, and to go and ask for help for my depression. Likewise it was easier to tell my friends I was mentally ill when they accidentally noticed my wounds. That said, I did not voluntarily show anyone my wounds, and I think that is common to others.
- Self injurers are suicidal. Self harm is not about killing yourself, although that doesn’t mean that you can’t be suicidal at the same time, or for part of the time. For some people, self harm is something they do to relieve the pressure to kill themselves, a way of stopping the suicidal thoughts. For other people, they may self injure but never feel suicidal. That is why most modern definitions of self injury include the lines “without intention to commit suicide”.
- It’s only a teenage thing. Many people of all ages self injure, not just teenagers. Certainly there seem to be more teenagers who do it, although whether this is because adults are more secretive and do not seek treatment, or because the life pressures of teenagers mean they are more likely to do it, I don’t know. I do know that I still struggle with self injury, and I am 31 – and I am not unusual. People also say you will grow out of it – many do, some do not.
- You can stop if you want. Some people may find it easy to stop self injuring, but for many, myself included, this is really difficult. It becomes like an addiction, with cravings to do it again happening whenever the triggers are pressed. Telling someone that they can “just stop it” is incorrect, because it is not that simple. If it were that simple, people wouldn’t need to go to therapy and receive treatment for self injury.
- All self injurers have been abused. This one certainly used to be quite common, perhaps because early studies showed most self injurers had indeed undergone physical or sexual abuse as children. As I understand things, this has been shown to be not quite the case now. It is true that many people who self harm have been abused, but by no means all, and we shouldn’t assume that people have been abused because they self injure.
- People self injure to be cool. This is a strange one. I can imagine that if, for some reason, self injury was trendy or cool, then someone might try self injury to look good. I cannot believe that they would continue to do it, without them having some problems of their own. Why would you hurt yourself to fit in? Maybe I am behind the times, but I just can’t imagine it.
- Self injury is only cutting. There are many different ways people hurt themselves, including cutting, burning, hitting, and breaking bones, among others. It is not just cutting.
- The wound isn’t that bad, so the problem can’t be that bad. If someone tells you they self injure, it doesn’t matter how bad the wound is, they have a problem. I have self injured more badly at times than others – but without it being an indicator of how bad I was feeling.
- All self injurers have Borderline Personality Disorder. One of the symptoms of BPD is indeed self injury, but it is by no means the whole definition. Whether people do or do not have BPD they need assistance to stop self injuring.
I hope this has been helpful. I got the headings (the bolded parts) from TheSite.org