Romanticizing Self-Harm: Revisited

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As the original has been my most popular blog post (funny, I didn’t think it was the best), I thought it would be good to write a follow-up.  The topic hasn’t gone away and while I still hold the same opinion—that you can be beautiful but self-harm never will be—I acknowledge that the issue is quite complicated.  (Note: most of the information presented here is my opinion.  I am not an authority on this subject—if one can even be that—and you are more than welcome to disagree with me.)

Trigger warning: Very mild descriptions of self-harm.  Please proceed with caution.  Resources are at the end of the post if needed.

To romanticize means to glamorize or idealize something. I might romanticize my morning cup of coffee and say that it is providing me with a vital life force to get me through the day.  In actuality, it’s just perking me up very slightly.  While romanticizing my morning routine doesn’t hurt anyone (except sleepy me), romanticizing self-harm or other forms of self-abuse can be dangerous.  Drug abuse is often romanticized, with users indicating that it’s cool to smoke or drink dangerous amounts of liquor.  Likewise, romanticizing self-harm can negatively influence people.  Instead of describing self-injury as what it is—a coping mechanism with risky physical and psychological drawbacks—someone might describe this as something cool and mysterious.  Or one common presentation is that individuals self-harm until they meet the person of their dreams; someone who kisses their scars, tells them they’re beautiful, and then self-abuse ends.  If this happens to someone and it does magically end their self-harm forever then great, that’s fantastic.  But if self-harm is presented as something that can be easily mitigated by a significant other or some other accomplishment, this will only disappoint those people for whom this doesn’t work.  While I’m very much in love with my supportive significant other and I’m proud of the accomplishments I have made, these have not solved my self-harm and expecting them to would put me in a bad state.

When talking about self-harm I consider there to be two main audiences.  First is those who don’t self-harm who may have no idea what self-harm is, have the wrong idea, or just may not have the same perspective as those who self-harm.  The other audience is obviously those who self-harm or who have harmed in the past.  Any discussion of self-harm, including that which romanticizes the act, affects both these audiences.

Is romanticizing self-harm bad?  I think the message it puts out is overall negative, but I acknowledge that it isn’t always done with nefarious intent.  Some people may romanticize self-harm because it helps them deal with this problem.  Perhaps if they think about it as something beautiful, then they’ll feel less shame for engaging in it.  While I don’t wish to critique anyone’s methods of dealing with something, I think romanticizing self-harm as a way to feel better about it is a dangerous path to go down.  Resorting to self-harm as a coping strategy isn’t disgusting or gross, but calling it beautiful does little to deter one from the already tempting path.  In this way, romanticizing self-harm can be dangerous for an audience of people who are self-harming in that it doesn’t do much to help them stop.

Romanticizing self-harm can also be detrimental for the non-self-harming audience.  Anything that gives this audience the impression that people are self-harming for any reason other than to cope is probably not helping to reduce the negative stigma around self-injury.  If these people think we self-harm as a way to enhance our sad poetry writing or to seek out compassionate partners, this may influence them to think that this isn’t a serious issue.  But it is serious.  Even if your wounds aren’t lethal or warranting a hospital visit, the harm likely indicates that you aren’t in a good place.  You might not be suicidal, but turning to self-harm instead of a healthier coping mechanism means you’re hurting.  And if you’re hurting this should be something others are compassionate towards, not dismissive.

On the other hand, I don’t think self-harm should be completely censored or removed from media or art forms.  Self-injury isn’t pretty and isn’t “family-friendly” enough to show images on a children’s television station.  But it is a part of so many individuals’ lives and affects people of all ages.  It’s important to acknowledge the different struggles others go through to present this issue and remove the negative stigma for an unknowledgeable audience.  It is also important for individuals who are depressed, anxious, or self-harming to know they aren’t alone.  Lastly, talking about it through art or other means can be an important and constructive coping mechanism.  And everyone’s story isn’t going to be rated G or be happy and fun to talk about.  Stories of racial prejudice, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, suicide, and other themes all need to be told to educate the public and empathize with the sufferers.  Self-harm deserves a similar spotlight and like all these examples should be addressed with care.  Warnings about graphic content can be helpful in addition to describing the context of the self-harm depiction.

So how do you talk about self-harm and not romanticize it?  Some steps are probably obvious but of course there’s going to be plenty of nuance.  I’m not going to pretend to be an authority on this issue, but these are some things I think are important.

Acknowledge and spell it out.  Of course, subtlety is important for many art forms.  But if your goal is to educate the public on why this is an important topic, you’ll want to make it clear.   Showing someone self-mutilating in a dimly lit room or having telltale scars all over their body might add to whatever “dark” atmosphere your work is going for, but it’s not really going to help either audience.  Depending on your art form, you might want to describe why this character is doing this.  Happy or sad endings are up to you and both have their place, but I’d hope that your work doesn’t endorse self-harm or suicide in any way that might encourage a viewer to do these destructive acts.

Don’t give the impression that self-harm makes someone beautiful.  This point I can’t emphasize enough.  Everyone is beautiful despite their scars.  Everyone is courageous, strong, and admirable for the tragedy they worked through.  But self-mutilation doesn’t make them beautiful.  What kind of impression does this leave people with?  Will people with depression who are hurting think that taking up self-harm will elicit sympathy or encourage others to finally accept their pain as valid?  Because self-harm is such a hard thing to overcome, enticing others to take it up even unintentionally is dangerous and reckless.

Don’t dismiss the complexity.  For most of us, self-harm won’t be fixed because we find a nice partner or because we get that A+ on our test.  Unless your character is just self-harming once and never turns to it ever again, some simple plot twist probably won’t fix this.  For one, that’s not very good writing.  But more importantly, this inaccurate portrayal gives both self-harming and non-self-harming audiences the wrong impression.  Self-harm is a complex issue and it’s important for audiences to know that relapse or lingering thoughts are common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Offer hope.  Again, I don’t want to tell you that you have to write stories with happy endings.  Unfortunately, happy endings aren’t always the case in real life.  There’s definitely a place for stories in which characters need to deal with suicide, self-harm, sexual assault, or anything else.  These are a part of so many peoples’ lives and deserve to be recognized.  But if you can, for your audience’s sake it would be nice to offer hope.  An obvious way is with uplifting plots in which people overcome any of these things.  If that’s not the direction your art takes, you may want to consider leaving phone numbers for crisis hotlines or other sources of help.  This isn’t your responsibility (at least I don’t think there are any laws governing that), but if you’ve gone through this I hope that you would want others to find the healthiest ways to cope.

There are probably many other ways to address self-harm without romanticizing it and if you’d like to contribute I’d be more than happy to hear!

Thank you for reading.

Resources (find a more extensive list in the “about” section of this blog):

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

https://selfinjury.com/

(I’ve noticed that I get blog views from a wide range of countries and while I can’t realistically find resources for everyone I hope this list is of help.)

List of suicide helplines for various countries: http://www.defyingmentalillness.com/worldwide-suicide-helplines/

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I have returned

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Hello everyone.  I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything (over three years, apparently).  Part of the reason for my absence is I felt like I had discussed all the topics I had in mind when I started the blog.  The other, more significant reason, however, is that I didn’t feel like I was the right person to run a blog like this.  While I certainly care enough about the topic and have been dealing with the issue for long enough to gain perspective, I’m not beyond it.  My self-harm isn’t always as bad as it used to be, but sometimes it’s worse.  I wanted to write this blog as someone who experienced it, overcame it, then would be able to show others that they too can overcome it.  But I haven’t.  It’s still a part of my life and if I must be honest I don’t know if I ever will be completely over it.

But maybe that isn’t crucial.  Despite not posting anything on this blog in over three years, my views and blog traffic have remained quite high and feedback I have received has been positive.  I don’t take that to mean that I’m the best writer ever (but it’s fine if you think that 😉).  What it does mean, however, is that what I was writing about is important.  I want people to know that others are experiencing this and that their less-than-perfect coping mechanisms don’t make them gross or disgusting.  For that reason, I would like to return to contributing to this blog.

Instead of blogging, I have been spending the last few years obtaining my bachelors in neurobiology and am currently applying to Ph.D. graduate programs in neuroscience.  One of my research interests is the neuroscience of addiction and addictive behaviors.  While I want to continue with the blog posts having a personal touch, I would like to present some relevant research that’s being done that I find interesting (and I’ll present these in a manner that’s as accessible as possible to everyone).  I might also expand upon my most popular older posts.

I also apologize to those I haven’t responded to during my absence.  I’ll definitely be better about that, even if I don’t think I have all the answers.

Stay tuned.

Body Issues: I Am My Own Worse Trigger

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Sometimes we are extra careful in avoiding much of what sets us off. We may heed provided trigger warnings, avoid looking at gruesome material, or read reviews of written work to see if they may be problematic. Sometimes this isn’t enough. For me, looking at my own body can oftentimes be just as bad.

This idea may seem strange to some, but for anyone who has had some instances of self-loathing it may seem more plausible. Some individuals may be upset about their weight, their looks, the appearance of their self-harm scars, or any other body issue. In many instances I have been having a good day until I look down at the scars on my legs.

What do you do when you upset yourself? In many other instances it is best just to avoid what upsets you. But trying to avoid your own body can be difficult and sometimes dangerous. Some may simply try to avoid gazing into mirrors or staring at their skin, but others may compromise their health. They may stop eating enough, neglect their hygiene, or not seek medical attention for problems they may have. In these cases, avoiding themselves may be just as detrimental as being “triggered” by their appearance.

Since avoiding ourselves is not ideal, the best solution would be to become more accepting of our bodies. But if this were an easy solution then individuals would never have any of these problems mentioned.   One obvious solution, if you haven’t tried it already, would be to try and safely address these problems.   Starting healthy diets, using scar treatments, or restyling may be a few ways to become a little more comfortable in your skin. Others may find it useful to find support groups either online or in person. Talk therapy may be helpful for others.

It can be frustrating when our bodies don’t fit our desires. Remember to focus on what you want and not what others want. But if your body expectations start to negatively affect your physical or mental health, it may be best to try to find more positive support from others. Whether you are finding safer ways to make these changes or learning to accept aspects of your appearance, know that you are more important than your body.

 

 

Why Suicide Isn’t Selfish

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If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). 

This is purely an opinion piece.  You are allowed to disagree with me.  However, if you do and wish to leave a comment, please be respectful.

One of the common arguments against suicide is that it is a selfish act.  If this idea prevents you from committing suicide then that’s good for you.  But constantly telling a suicidal person that this act would be selfish doesn’t always have a positive effect on them.

According to the definition, to be selfish means to be excessively concerned with oneself without regard for others.  One may be able to link suicide to selfishness in terms of the lack of regard for others.  When someone dies they may be physically abandoning someone.  But is that also the case if the person committing suicide is a complete outcast and has absolutely no one who is concerned?  Is this suicide no longer selfish? The other component of selfishness says that someone is overly concerned with their own welfare or advantage.  A person committing suicide may be getting out of some life annoyances.  Maybe they don’t have to deal with grief, pay an enormous bill, suffer in prison, or deal with troublesome people.  But even so, what else are they getting out of their suicide?  Absolutely nothing.  They may have forfeited those annoyances, but they won’t even be able to feel the relief (this point may differ according to different religious or afterlife beliefs).  If they aren’t getting anything in return I find it hard to characterize the action as being selfish. Furthermore, although the comeback has been used often, should it not also be selfish for a family member or friend to demand that a suicidal person live because of their own feelings?  I believe it is best that this suicidal person does live, however, to demand they live just based off of your own feelings would still be selfish.  You should encourage them to live not only because you would miss them but also because they have much to offer the world and the world has much to offer them.

An outsider may view a suicide as selfish because this person has abandoned their loved-ones.  However, this person may have had selfless intent.  Some individuals commit suicide because of their own costly medical or other bills or because they think they are a burden to some extent.  I don’t believe anyone should kill themselves even for these reasons, but it is often the case.  But is the suicide selfish when the motivation was not?

If an individual has already committed suicide, calling that person selfish will probably not help the grieving family and friends.  The loved ones are suffering a tremendous loss and are probably overwhelmed with many confusing or conflicting emotions.  Some may even be accusing the victim of being selfish in an effort to understand the dreadful event.  But many others do not have these thoughts and would not wish anyone to have ill-thoughts about their loved one.

Overall there is no point in asking if a suicide was selfish or not.  If anyone is struggling with thoughts of suicide it is better to let them talk to you or refer them to a therapist than to tell them the action would be selfish and leave it at that.  If anyone is suffering because of this loss then it would be better to focus attention onto them rather than trying to understand the victim’s motivation.  For your own healing it’s better to try to put aside anger and reflect upon the good moments in the victim’s life or your life together than to try and determine whether the act was selfish or not.

The Advantages and Drawbacks of Trigger Warnings

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“Triggering” means to produce a strong, negative emotion in an individual, such as feelings of depression, anxiety, or suicidal tendencies.  Some individuals become triggered when they see certain images, hear detailed descriptions, or are called specific names.  Some individuals may try to overcome being triggered while others may choose to avoid such things whenever they can.  Although I have not written many, if I do write a blog that is very graphic and detailed I chose to attach a “trigger warning” to alert those that may be upset or triggered by such descriptions.  I believe that these (if given with a short description about what exactly is triggering) can be very helpful and prevent unnecessary problems.  But do these warnings solve everything?

Trigger warnings can be positive.  Take for instance a person who can read through blogs like mine without any trouble but feels like self-harming when shown a picture of self-mutilation.  If this person knows that the images trigger them and the blog’s author states in the description that there will be an image, the reader can skip over this blog post without feeling the urge to hurt themselves.  The individual avoided being upset and it only took knowing what troubles them as well as a few extra words by the author.  As an author it might be worth adding a short warning to have the peace of mind that you may have prevented someone from being triggered.

One problem with assigning trigger warnings to pieces of written or visual work is deciding what types of things are triggering to someone.  Human diversity is wonderful but it also makes protecting people difficult.  I will generally only attach a trigger warning if I describe in detail the physical appearance of wounds, the act of harming, or dark thoughts that would circle throughout my head as I hurt myself.  But does that work for everyone?  Maybe my words wouldn’t have triggered a person but they avoided my work anyway and maybe missed out on something they may have liked to hear.  On the other hand maybe some people will be triggered just at the mention of specific modes or motivation for self-injury.  Furthermore, an individual’s specific triggers may vary just depending on their mood.  Sometimes I can read or see something extremely grotesque and not be affected at all.  Other days I can just see a self-injury scar and feel down.  Such fluctuations make it difficult to determine when warnings are proper.

Another problem is that these warnings can only be available in certain instances.  Maybe every blog will have warnings before showing graphic content.  But will every social media post take this into account?  Will every movie or television show include one aside from the general warnings that come with their rating?  These ratings may mention violence or sexual content, but someone may be able to stomach all the other violence on the show but perhaps not the imagery of self-injury.  And we can’t expect trigger warnings on people or events that happen outside of written or visual work.  We can’t put a warning on every person who walks around with their scars visible or who is noticeably thin due to an eating disorder.  Since warnings can only go so far they shouldn’t be the only solution.

Of course you shouldn’t tell anyone to just “get over” what’s bothering them.  But if you are someone who is upset or triggered by specific things you cannot just assume that you will always be warned.  You should use your discretion to avoid what you think may or may not be upsetting.  If images of self-harm trigger you, don’t go looking through the self-harm tag on tumblr.  Perhaps read through synopses or ask friends about books or movies if you don’t know what they may include.  You might be upset about a spoiled plot line but you have to decide what is more important to you.

Sometimes being triggered cannot be avoided.  If this happens try to leave the environment, end the conversation, or find someone in whom to confide.  There is nothing wrong with you for being upset by certain things.  The most important thing is not to act out on these feelings in a negative way (such as relapsing into self-harm).  Look out for yourself by trying to avoid what you can and calmly dealing with what may occur.

 

A Year in Review

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I’m very thankful for the success of this blog and all the views, followers, likes, and comments I have received.  I plan on continuing with my writing for awhile but I thought that I would do an overview of all that I have discussed this year in regards to self-harm.  Feel free to click on any of the titles if you wish to read the post in its entirety.

What: Although self-harm has recently gained popularity, it is far from being a brand new phenomenon.  Self-harm can be suicidal or non-suicidal, usually used as a coping mechanism.  It goes by many names: self-injury, self-mutilation, self-inflicted violence, etc.  There are many different modes through which individuals harm themselves.  Some of the most common are cutting, burning, and even substance abuse.

Why: Sometimes self-harm results from mental disorders (depression, bipolar, borderline, or other disorders) or trauma.  Some common motivations for those who engage in non-suicidal self-harm include but are not limited to: to distract, to feel instead of being emotionally numb, to have a sense of control, to express emotions, to feel better.

Media: The media can have some negative effects on the reputation of self-harm as well as on those who partake in it.  Sometimes media representation lumps self-injurers into the category of attention seekers or creates other negative stigmas.  Images can be triggering.  But media can also be positive.  It can allow people to understand self-harm or allow people to share their success stories and maybe inspire others.  And you know, this blog and stuff.

Confessing or receiving confessions:  It can be difficult to confess your self-harm out of fear that the individual will not understand or may even be disgusted by you.  When you have found a trust-worthy person to confess to try to be as comfortable as possible, focus on your emotions as opposed to gory details, and give them time to process.  If someone is confessing to you try to remain calm, accept that these are coping techniques, do not make threats about ratting them out, don’t let them dwell on details, and assist them in seeking help.

Alternatives: When the urge to harm persists, some people like to use alternatives.  To find the best alternative it may be best to learn what triggers you or your motivation for harm.  Different alternatives address different motivations, such as to express emotions, release tension, to sooth, to have control, or simply to feel pain.

RelapsesUnfortunately, many individuals relapse when they are trying to quit.  Some are triggered by dramatic events, stress, depression, or loss of hope.  Relapsing can be devastating, especially when you have been doing so well with your recovery.  It is important not to give up after you slip up.  Relapse is very common.  How many days you have been self-harm free aren’t nearly as important as how you are growing as an individual and learning better ways to cope.

Cyber-bulling: Bullying can be one trigger for self-harm.  Cyber-bullying is one form of bullying that utilizes electronics and has become common.  Sometimes it is used in conjunction with in-person physical or verbal bullying, but sometimes it stands alone.  Some try to deny that cyber-bullying is a problem by saying that it is easily avoidable or it’s not physical aggression.  It can be a problem, however, because it is rampant, can be public, can be anonymous, and people have been greatly affected by it already.

Suicide Prevention: Suicide is a tragic end for some individuals who are suffering.  It is wrapped up in negative stigmas of being cowardly or selfish, which aren’t helpful for those who want to find help.  As a friend it can be important to monitor whether or not someone is being suicidal.  If you or someone is feeling suicidal, please call a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or any local hotline.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one or see a counselor.

Living with Scars:  Some individuals who have self-harmed have physical scars.  Some may chose to cover them up to feel more comfortable.  Others may wish to show their scars and not be ashamed of their past.  Either option is completely fine but be aware that others may be suspicious.  It is also important to let your scars heal.  Your scars do not define you.

Feeling like a hypocrite: It can be difficult to encourage others not to self-harm when you harm yourself.  Some may think you are a hypocrite and reject your advice or you may think this yourself.  However, you advice may be important because you may be able to relate and perhaps help each other.

Romanticizing:  One issue with self-harm is its depiction as something beautiful or artistic.  Some may take pictures or write poetry in an effort to make the act seem romantic.  This can be troubling in that it perpetrates the idea that self-harm is ok and can make it even more difficult to quit.  You can be beautiful with your scars but self-harm itself is never beautiful.

Privilege:  One negative stigma against depression is that some people’s lives are “too good” to warrant depression.  Environment can have an impact on mood, however, just because someone has it worse does not mean that the situations of everyone else can be ignored.  Sometimes depression is solely biochemical, so a “good life” wouldn’t do much.  Furthermore, no one should be depressed.  Everyone deserves help if they need it.

Fear of annoying others: When our troubles don’t fade away it can feel like we may annoy those we confide in.  To avoid frustrating others it may be helpful to find someone as understanding as possible, be specific, make an effort to fix your problems, and if this individual is not a psychologist then don’t treat them as one.  If someone is confiding in you remember that they aren’t trying to frustrate you, try not to dismiss their pain, and remember that you aren’t a therapist.

Sexual assault: Some individuals turn to self-harm due to the trauma of being sexually abused.  Sexual assault can happen to anyone and often leaves long-term distress in the form of mental health or relationship problems.  If someone you know has been sexually assaulted or is confiding in you remember not to criticize them for situations they were in, give them space to open up when they feel comfortable, be careful with physical contact, and reassure them that their assault isn’t their fault.

Thank you for reading and I hope to have new content soon!

Sexual Assault

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As I stated in my post “Why would anyone self-harm?”, sometimes self-harm can be a coping mechanism for traumas such as sexual abuse.

Sexual assault is a horrifying issue that is sadly much too common.  It is not limited to “a man assaulting a woman in a dark alley.”  It can happen to minors, the disabled or the elderly.   A family member can assault another, a “friend” can assault a friend, a teacher can assault teachers or students, and minors can assault other minors.  Assault transcends gender boundaries.  A person of any gender can be abused by anyone of any gender.

Other than just the terror in the moment, sexual abuse often leaves long-term distress.  Some consequences include but are not limited to:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood and anxiety disorders
  • Relationship (romantic and platonic) issues
  • Sexual functioning problems
  • Suicide

[List generated with help from: Effects of Sexual Assault & Long Term Effects Child Sex Assault]

Sexual trauma can adversely affect relationships.  This seems obvious with sexual relationships.  Although this form of sex is hopefully of an entirely different manner, the act itself can trigger feelings of dread.  This can adversely affect an individual’s sexual performance, such as lowering someone’s sex drive.  Maybe less obvious is that trauma can also affect nonsexual relationships.  One explanation may be that a majority of abuse occurs through either romantic relationships or by an acquaintance, friend or family member.  It can be difficult to not develop trust issues, especially if you were assaulted by an acquaintance.  These relationships can also be affected due to other possible consequences of abuse, such as mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm, or anything that puts strain on a relationship.

What can you do to help?

Don’t criticize:  All sexual assault should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, some forms of abuse become a laughing matter or turn into a case of victim blaming.  One such situation is the assault of a man by a person of any gender identity.  Being assaulted by a man may make him the target of anti-gay sentiments (the same idea would apply to woman on woman assault).  Other individuals don’t even believe it is possible for a woman to rape a man.  (Arousal does not equal consent.  Sexual organs can act independently from your brain.)

Another circumstance is what I would call the “dangerous situation.”  Some examples include getting intoxicated in a public place without a responsible friend or being alone at a late hour in a public place.  Although it may be best to avoid such situations, being assaulted during them is not your fault.  No one is “asking for it” by walking to their car at 12 A.M.  There is also the infamous case of being assaulted because of wearing “revealing” clothing.

One more situation is that of “date rape”, in which someone is sexually assaulted by significant others or casual dates.  Being in a committed relationship does not indicate that a person is available for sex whenever the partner wishes.  Don’t assume that a person is accusing their partner or date of rape only because they “regret their decisions.”  This may be the case sometimes, which is quite unfortunate in that it leaves a terrible stigma for those who are reporting real cases.  Nevertheless, don’t assume that everyone is that cruel.

If someone is confiding in you do not ridicule him or her for being in any of these positions.  Listen with an open mind.

Give them space:  Opening up to someone about sexual assault is often no easy task.  Some individuals may be worried about trustworthiness or may not wish to “relive” any trauma by discussing it.  So if anyone tries to discuss his or her experience with you, do not pry.  Let them tell you what they want and when they want to.  Offer support but don’t bury them with questions.

Be careful with physical contact:  This doesn’t apply to everyone, but still be careful.  You may be super fond of giving all your friends hugs, but not everyone is comfortable with so much contact.  This can be applicable to anyone regardless of whether or not they have experienced sexual assault.  The safest bet is to briefly ask new people if they’re okay with the contact you wish to share.  “Is it okay if I hug you?” or anything similar.  It might seem awkward, especially if they reply with no, but it’s better than making someone uncomfortable when it could easily be prevented.

It isn’t their fault:  Too often survivors of sexual assault feel guilty or blame themselves for the event even if nothing in their power could have prevented it.  If people express guilt, gently remind them that they are not at fault.  Of course you should do this kindly and not try to rebuke them for these feelings.  Be considerate.

If you are suffering from trauma after sexual assault, it may be helpful to look into finding a therapist.  You can get through this.

Are they tired of listening to me?

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Today (March 1st) is Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD).  If you harm, remember that you aren’t alone and that you aren’t a failure if you haven’t quite quit yet.  And if you are supporting people, listen to them when they wish to speak and let them know that you’ll be there.

I have nothing else to say about the day itself so I will continue with another topic, although it may relate.

*          *            *

“Are they tired of listening to me?”

This question doesn’t only circle the minds of those who self-harm, but anyone who feels tension when they confide in someone.  Some personal dilemmas linger and continuously frustrate us.  For this reason, we may continue talking about the same troubles again and again with someone we confide with.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it can make us question whether or not we are annoying this person.  We can’t control how others react, so here are a few points on what to do if you are confiding in someone or someone is confiding in you.

If you are confiding in someone:

  • Try to find someone as understanding as possible.  Of course this isn’t a simple task.  Most of us would be most willing to confide in our friends, but being friends doesn’t guarantee willingness to talk.  I have some friends that I’ve shared many laughs with but don’t usually share deeply personal or emotional thoughts.  I wouldn’t talk about my reoccurring issues with these people.  Instead, talk to those who are more willing to be emotionally open.  There is a lesser chance of these individuals becoming aggravated with your long-term problems.  But again, this isn’t a simple task.  Therapists may be a good option,
  • Be specific.  Perhaps the exact same thing is bothering you, but perhaps it differs slightly.  For example, you may be depressed, but there may be various triggers.  Perhaps you are upset with a relationship, a bad grade, self-esteem, or various life stressors.  Although they may cause similar feelings, these are all different from each other.  Being specific can help you identify what is wrong and make changes to fix it.
  • Try to fix your problems. Don’t just assume that things will magically get better.  Many things can’t be fixed easily, but you have to start somewhere if you want things to change.  Besides, if you aren’t making an effort to fix your problems, people you are confiding in may become frustrated.  They can’t help you if you aren’t trying to help yourself.
  • Most importantly: Remember that this person (if talking to a friend or family member) is not a psychologist/therapist.  It would be great if they can help you, but don’t expect them to be able to solve or help you solve all of your problems.  They should be there mainly to support you, but not to be your doctor.  Putting too much pressure on them to help you can very well frustrate them and create tension in your relationship.

If someone is confiding in you:

  • Remember this person probably isn’t trying to frustrate you.  Their goal isn’t to repeat their problems over and over just to drive you mad.  If it keeps bugging them, it is probably a big deal.  Understanding that this is an important issue can help make the individual more comfortable confiding in you.
  • Even if you don’t understand, try not to dismiss their pain.  Perhaps the issue that has been constantly bugging them seems simple or silly to you.  For you it might be, but everyone handles things differently.  Listen to them fully without trying to graze over things that you don’t think are important.  However, if something is particularly triggering for them or they are not quite comfortable with disclosing some information, don’t pry it out of them.
  • Remember, you are not a therapist.  Be there to support this person, but don’t get upset that you can’t solve all of their problems.  It isn’t your job and you might not have the appropriate training.  If you don’t feel comfortable with all that someone is asking you to do, don’t feel obligated.  Help them seek other help if you can.

Overall, remember the boundaries between friends and doctors.  There are ways to help people without being their personal therapist.  Sometimes being a friend is helpful enough.

Privilege Is No Immunity

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“Your life is too good for you to be depressed.”

Often I see people argue that individuals that are financially stable, in great physical condition, or from a good family or environment shouldn’t be depressed. They don’t have “anything to be sad about” and it is ridiculous for them to be self-harming. Not only are these ideas blatantly false but they can also be detrimental for the individuals in these good conditions.

I am not saying that environment has absolutely no affect on mood or self-harm. It most certainly can and often does. Social tension, monetary issues, bad living conditions, and physical ailments can influence anxiety, depression, or self-harm.  But one thing to keep in mind is that bad environments can also be temporary and still have lasting effects.  Just because the individual is in a good environment at the moment does not mean there were no serious events that occurred prior.  Individuals from any economic situation may have suffered from the death of a relative or friend, physical or sexual abuse, or other traumatic events.

Furthermore, not everyone’s depression is a result of the environment.  Major depression can oftentimes result from a chemical imbalance.  Having a comfortable income (although it may help you with the purchase of antidepressants) doesn’t influence the chemicals your brain does or does not produce.  Having a loving family does not change your brain chemistry.   For this reason, it is absurd to think that privilege will make individuals immune to depression.

Saying that these individuals privileged by any of these aspects have no logical basis to be depressed only creates a negative stigma against them.  They may internalize this view and convince themselves that they don’t need or aren’t worthy of help. Or if an individual tries to seek help, those giving counsel may try to reinforce these positive aspects of his/her life and graze past the matters that are influencing ill thoughts.

And most importantly, no one SHOULD be depressed or self-harming. Although sadness can be a natural reaction to events in our lives, temporary sadness and major depression are very different. Major depression is composed of prolonged and generally intensified feelings of sadness, worthlessness, loneliness, etc.  Furthermore, it is called a mood disorder for a reason. Although not completely rare, major depression is not a natural reaction to events. No one should be depressed and every depressed individual should be able to seek help.

Romanticizing Self-Harm

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(UPDATE: This post has been revisited after four years.  I’ve expanded upon some of the ideas so if you like this post please check the newer one out.)

TRIGGER WARNING.  THIS ARTICLE HAS VARIOUS DESCRIPTIONS OF SELF-HARM THAT MAY BE TRIGGERING.  PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION.

It can be hurtful when your method of coping is called disgusting or crazy.  On the other hand, being told that self-harm is beautiful or artistic can be just as damaging.  Self-mutilating doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is far from being something good, even with the possible positive side affects.  We should support the individual who self harms, but not the self-harm.

How is self-harm romanticized?  This idea is really open to interpretation and it’s hard to classify what is and what isn’t romanticized.  Sometimes you might not even do it on purpose.  For me, romanticizing self-harm was trying to make it something greater than just a reflex for when I was feeling down.  Very often it would become something symbolic.  Before self-harm my skin was relatively blemish free as well as very pale (still is pale, of course.  Sun isn’t my friend).  The scars would physically and symbolically be a blemish on a once pure and innocent body.  A body previously innocent from dark thoughts was now littered with sad and angry marks.  Sometimes it was a bit of retaliation.  After my first boyfriend broke up with me I cut an image of a heart directly above my own.  I did it both to imitate a heart necklace he had given me, as well as convince myself that like this scar, my heart would not heal from the rejection.  Consequently I would not let the scar heal.  Even after I was fully over the break-up, the scar adapted to any new feelings of rejection I had.  In a way it was revenge that ironically would hurt no one but myself.   These thoughts and things I did made it almost impossible for me to quit.  I wouldn’t just be giving up the relief generated from a few cuts; I would be giving up my art – no matter how sick and gross it was.

Where did I come up with the idea to romanticize my self-harm?  I don’t really know or at least I can’t remember.  I’ve always been very poetic and loved symbolism, so it’s possible I just connected that with the self-harm.  But what I do know is that I see self-harm romanticized all over.   Taking pictures of self-harm is quite popular.   Some people post pictures of cuts with black and white filters (maybe an attempt to be artistic, or maybe too look less shocking than bright red blood).  Oftentimes you’ll see pictures of tools or bloody tissue from clean up.  Razor blade shaped pendants have become popular necklace charms.  Once in a while you might see photoshopped pictures of blood running into heart shaped pools.   Some people might post these simply because they need to tell someone, even if it’s random strangers on the internet, what they are doing or want to do to themselves.  Not only are these things strong triggers, but they can also give the impression that self-harm can be beautiful.  And although someone can be beautiful even with his or her scars, self-harm itself is never beautiful.

Unfortunately, there probably isn’t a whole lot you can do about these instances.   If you self-harm try not to think of it as something beautiful.  It is a coping technique, and sometimes it helps, but don’t try to fool yourself into thinking it isn’t a problem.  Even if it’s hard to quit, and I know it is, don’t think it’s something you can never stop doing.  You can get through it.  And if you see others romanticizing self-harm, don’t condemn them.  Sometimes it may be unintentional.  Others may use it as a coping technique.   Offer them support and let them know that their self-harm does not define them.