After discussing it with other mental health people, I’ve come to the conclusion that self-harm can encompass more than self-mutilation. On the other hand, “official” websites disagree. They tend to separate dangerous behaviors including alcoholism and drug addiction into a different category because the end result is caused by the behavior, not directly by the person. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to classify them all together.
I don’t think that those of us who have engaged in these behaviors stop to consider the impact we have on our loved ones, just like people who contemplate suicide don’t think about the devastation they’re going to leave behind. When I was at my worst, I tried to obliterate or punish myself in every way possible. I don’t think that I once stopped to think about how my behavior was affecting those around me. I thought nobody knew, or cared for that matter. I felt I was pretty good at hiding it all.
The alcoholic and the drug addict think they’re fine from the outside, that they’re experts at disguising it. I know I considered myself “high-functioning.” I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself an addict, but I suppose I was pretty close to it. As far as I was concerned, I needed those behaviors to cope with life. As far as self-injury goes, I thought I was very clever and that no one could see what I was doing, I only did it in spots that didn’t show to the public. Appearance was important to me, after all I was an Office Manager, and then later a mother, and at that time cutting was unheard of. Not that it’s accepted or understood now, it’s just I had no idea that other people did it and I thought I was a freak.
Now, self-mutilation is “in your face.” It’s obvious most of the time, and it screams “help me.” But those of us that have to stand by and witness these behaviors are at a loss to what to do to help. The images of my daughter’s self-harm are burned into my brain. I don’t think I every really looked at the results before, I always glanced away. But this time it was unavoidable, so much worse. I was afraid to close my eyes, I couldn’t sleep, that’s all that I would see. Tears threatened to fall at any moment.
If those of us who engage in these behaviors knew the effect we had on those that care about us, would it make a difference? I imagine not, perhaps we are subconsciously aware of the impact, and that’s part of the shame and the impetus to keeps us going.