A report has come out today that gives ‘alarming’ statistics on how many people self-harm and how few professionals understand it. As usual, the people in charge of the report have entirely missed the point.
When I was a teenager I used to cut myself. So did Blip. Both of us got so far as to try and kill ourselves and are only still here by a stroke of good luck. Superficially it may be possible to say that our reasons for hurting ourselves in such a way were different but deep down the reasons that we did what we did were exactly the same, exactly the same as every person who hurts themselves. It is all about control.
Whatever claim a person might make for the reasons that they are doing what they do, a need for control is always at the heart of it. Even if they are doing it for attention, this same thing is true. By being the master of your own pain, you are creating one small bit of your life where you are in charge. You decide where you bleed from, how much you bleed, and even what shape the injury is. Then you keep it a secret and hide it away so that nobody can try to take that control away from you. Or if you decide that you want attention for it, you decide how and where you let people see it. You decide the story you tell, you decide what has made you upset enough to do it. All of it is ultimately under your control and nobody else’s.
This is where the charities and professionals have missed the point. The absolute worst thing that you can do to someone who self-harms is try to help them, because by its very nature trying to help someone is taking away their control. If somebody feels compelled to take control of their life in such an extreme way, inflicting what you think is help on them only serves to remove that one sanctuary they have left. Maybe a self-harmer will go too far and try to kill themselves but that isn’t enough of a reason to take away their only comfort. They have to work it out for themselves, they have to be allowed the perception that they have regained control and overcome their own problems. Whatever help they want, they have to be in charge of it.
People don’t need training and help to understand self-harm. They don’t need to understand why people do it. The only person who needs to deal with self-harm is the person hurting themselves, their treatment is understanding it. Therapy, hospital admissions and the like only serve to postpone the problem and leave it hovering in the background. If a person kills themselves then they got what they wanted, the ultimate control. If it doesn’t work or they see sense at the last minute, they will snap themselves out of it or maybe try again. It isn’t up to other people to decide that a person who wants to kill themselves shouldn’t do it, it’s up to the person who wants to die to make that choice. But therein lies the whole problem, people think too rashly that their own decision is the right one without considering the choices and free will of the person they are deciding for. We all need control over our own lives otherwise all of us would look to that final sanctuary of a sharp object on the nearest bit of skin.
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