Self Harm = Self Destruction?

When people think about self-harm images of slit wrists, failed suicide attempts and a never ending slide into the abyss appear. Self-harm is seen as either as a desperate attempt to get attention or a failed attempt of leaving this world. Compared to this the images that are conjured up by drugs and alcohol are like those in a child's picture book. To many people self-harm is the ultimate self-destructive activity, and in some cases this is true. However if we look deeper into the lives of those who self harm we may find a very different picture.

To see the depth of self-destruction caused by self-injury we need to compare it to other self-destructive activities…

Take for example Michael, a 33-year-old alcoholic, who's been drinking heavily for 10 years. Then there is Jennie, 29, she has been self harming for nine years, often cutting at least once a day.

To the outside world Michael is a normal guy, who likes a drink, no one knows that he has been depressed for six of those ten drink filled years. Jennie on the other hand is openly scorned for self-harm and is labelled as an attention seeker. Michael started drinking normally, a drink with friends and a laugh at the weekends. From there it escalated until sleep and eventually all functioning had to be aided with a drink. Jennie's self-harm was her way of coping through a bout of depression and has been her coping mechanism ever since.

There are two key differences between Michael and Jennie - Michael's self destruction is accepted by society, Jennie's is not.

The other more important difference - Michael wants to die, Jennie does not. When people see the scars on Jennie's arms they assume that these are just the beginning - perhaps the test run for what later on will be the end. Whereas Michael's scars are hidden inside and are far more damaging than Jennie's

Though many believe that self-harm is one rung below suicide on the ladder of self destruction this is often not the case, in many cases self-harm is used as a way to get a release - to relieve the pressures of life and to push the thoughts of suicide away.

The science of cutting explains the release. When some one cuts (or burns etc) endorphins are released to mask the pain. This rush of endorphins is what gives the relief (and can cause the addiction of self-harm). For some on the edge these chemicals released are the only thing that pulls them back and stops them from ending their lives, the way for them to release these chemicals is to cut.

What people don't realise when the see someone who self-harms is that their self-harm is often the only way that they can survive - what they see as destruction is not self-destruction at all but rather self-preservation.