When I was thinking about what to write for this month, I was at a bit of a loss because I haven’t personally dealt with self-harm. So I did some research on self-harm as it relates to eating disorders, and learned that self-harm behaviour is defined as:
“Self-injurious behavior (SIB) is defined as those behaviors that involve the deliberate infliction of direct physical harm to one’s own body without the intent to die as a result of the behavior itself (Levitt 31)”
It is also very important to recognize the difference between self-harm and suicide.
That’s why that last clause up there is so important in defining self-harm behaviour. The motivation behind it is completely different than the motivation behind a suicide attempt. In self-harm, the behaviour is a numbing agent of sorts, the physical pain numbs the emotional pain, albeit only for a short time. Suicidal behaviour, on the other hand, is a way out, an end. Not a way of minimizing pain in the moment.
After reading what self-harm really is, I realized I have more experience with self-harm than I ever thought I did.
By this definition, I think eating disorders themselves can be classified as self-harm behaviours. Here’s why:
- Eating disorders cause real physical damage to the body.
- As sufferers, we know our behaviors are harming us, but this alone does not make us stop.
- I and many people I know who have struggled with eating disorders don’t intend to die.
Today I want to focus on what can you do if you know a friend or loved one is struggling with self-harm.
Here are a few things I have learned that I wish I knew before.
- Let them know you’re there for them: Simply telling whoever is suffering with self-harm that you are there and ready to listen if they want to talk. This doesn’t mean pry! If they don’t want to talk, trying to force them to talk can cause more isolation and make things worse.
- Don’t shame: A response of “Don’t do that to yourself!” or “Why do you do that?” Will only bring about shame and guilt for the sufferer. This leads to more self-harm which is exactly the opposite of what we want.
- Help them find help: there is plenty of help out there to be had; from helplines to school counsellors to therapists and psychotherapists. Help your friend to see these resources, and let them know it is okay to make use of them.
I think these things are important for anyone who knows someone who is going through self-harm, or any emotional problems for that matter. A shoulder to lean on or a listening ear is something everyone can benefit from, and everyone can be to someone else.
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Levitt, John L., Randy A. Sansone, and Leigh Cohn. Self-harm Behavior and Eating Disorders: Dynamics, Assessment, and Treatment. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004.
Melinda, Smith, M.A., and Segal Jeanne, PH.D. “Cutting and Self-Harm.” : Self-Injury Help, Support, and Treatment. N.p., June 2012. Web. 21 Aug. 2012.
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