Introduction to Self-Harm
When we think about certain things, we tend to assign gender, sex, age, or skin color as if it, whatever we’re talking about, solely fits into that presumed category. In reference to Self-mutilation, sometimes called Self-Injury/Harm, it’s seen as specifically a ‘white girl’ condition. Well, I’m here to dispel that myth. How you may ask…because I’m not white and can personally identify.
Please, refer to the link in order to gain a better understanding of what Self-Harm is.
Sadly, I had a difficult time finding U.S statistics for white-to-black ratios of those who Self-Harm. But suffice it to say, the statistics would not be quite accurate as many African Americans, such as myself, do not report what they’re doing unless someone finds out and mandates counseling. What I do know for sure is that it’s more prevalent than most of us think and it’s rising at an alarming rate. My recent interaction with some college students (ages 19-22) determined that 3 of the 20 young ladies in the room had or continues to wrestle with self-injuring. In addition, two of the students knew of other young ladies who were currently engaging in the behaviour. Know this readers, this behaviour is less about a latent desire to commit suicide, but instead is predicated on some of the same reasons why people become anorexic, bulimic, promiscuous, etc. Self-Harm is a coping mechanism adopted to manage stress, pain, discomfort, etc.
I began Self-Harm (SH) at age 13. I am now 44 and didn’t stop until I was about 37. At the time, I didn’t know my behaviour had a name and it wasn’t until my late teens that I began to understand it. According to a British study on Self-Harm, 1 in 12 teenagers Self-Harm, with many outgrowing it by their 20s. Personally, I feel their results are skewed because as I said before, they can only quantify what has not been identified. Furthermore, some do not start until their late teens or early 20s. My case went unreported until I was 25, which by then I’d already been cutting for 12 years.
My SH began as a result of a volatile interaction with my mother where I was left so wound up as a result that I began biting the inside of my mouth to calm down and eventually bit a hole through the inside of my lip. It wasn’t until my teeth ground together that I stopped and realized what I’d done, but the calm state I found myself in was amazing instead of horrifying. That one incident led to others as I went through and dealt with the dysfunctions of my family, the demands of school and sports, and just growing up in general. The inner mouth biting gave way to scratching, as my anxiety or stress mounted, and later led to actual cutting. Why the elevation you may ask? The mouth biting led to sores and I found it harder to eat so, in order to not draw any attention to myself for not eating, I found scratching as a way to soothe myself. The scratching was easy to do as everyone scratched, save for the welts, which I was able to hide; it was the more innocuous management of my anxiety/stress. As I got older and the stress, demands of life, and trauma from emotional, mental, and sexual abuse mounted I needed increased ways to manage my ability to suppress it all.
The actual cutting happened purely by accident, but like my first introduction to the SH behaviour, I felt the euphoric calm as the knife cut across my skin. (I was upset and cooking at the same time, so while slicing the vegetables, the knife nicked my skin and felt great.) That ‘high’ was the best of the previous forms of management; almost like they were the gateway to my new found ‘drug’ of choice. Over the years, I found myself using pushpins, staples, as well as box cutters, pocket knives and exacto knives, and on occasion a broken piece of a credit card. The choices and possibilities are endless if you’re determined and capable of 1) cutting yourself without detection and 2) able to come up with plausible explanations for the scars/marks. Given that I was always doing something physical or did manual labor without gloves, I was able to justify the many scratch like marks that randomly appeared on my arms or legs.
Hiding in Plain Sight
How come no one noticed? Well, one who self-harms is creative to say the least and is often neglected by way of attention so their scars/marks would frequently go undetected. I recall an instance when I was 16 and asked my mother, who worked in a hospital, to bring me a scalpel and she did without question. It was later, with said scalpel that I carved ‘Angel’ into my forearm; the name my then boyfriend gave to me. The name became a burden as he never treated me as well as the lofty moniker he’d given me, so to counter it, I carved it into my forearm in a fit of anger after hearing about his philandering. Mother saw it and simply called me stupid for doing it. She asked no questions, nor did she notice the slash marks healing on my arm and hand. What she instead accomplished was to further alienate me and compound my feelings of neglect, inadequacy, and feeling unloved/unlovable. After that experience, I knew I’d always be able to get away with my SH since she of all people didn’t care to challenge or question why I did it, so why would anyone else?
Up 4 Discussion…
1) Do you know anyone who’s suffered from Self-Harm?
2) Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer for you regarding Self-Harm?
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