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Self-Injury & Relationships

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I am a self harmer.

I'm not suicidal. I don't sit at home in a darkened room with a razorblade carving the word hate into my forearm. I don't have a sweeping side fringe. I have friends, a boyfriend, and a loving family.

I'd be the first to admit my life has been pretty cushy: private education, great friends, a wonderful caring family and never a want for anything. Or almost anything. Ever since I can remember I've had horrible horrible body issues. But before I look at that, I want to discuss what self-harm or self-injury actually is.

Self harm isn't usually a sign that someone is suicidal, in most cases, it is in fact a cry for help, a method of coping, a way NOT to commit suicide. If you find out someone you know is self harming, I urge you not to jump to the conclusion they are trying to kill themselves, and most of all, to not panic. Self harm can be done by many methods, and without going into detail, it's anything which causes injury or pain to yourself, which you've done as a deliberate act. So that means accidentally cutting your wrist by brushing it against something sharp in an accident isn't self harm, but deliberately holding your straightener at the hot end is.

Another rumor about self harm I want to dispell is that only teenage girls do it. That's just not true. Many many men and women of all ages self harm, and statistics show that if you're in a developed country 1 in 3 people will self harm at some point in your life. So if you go to school in a class of thirty students, maybe 10 of them are hurting themselves.

So why self harm?

People self harm for all manner of reasons, but one of the most common is to turn emotional pain which they don't know how to deal with into physical pain, which they do know how to deal with. Another reason might be to "punish" themselves, often for crimes known only to themselves.

Why does this affect me?

Well, for all you know one of those 10 classmates could be your best friend. And one of the things that hurt me the most was when I finally gathered the courage to tell one of my friends and they reacted in completely the wrong way, and caused a lot of trouble and friction between us. She assumed that I was mentally unstable, that I was trying to kill myself, and that the only way to handle the situation was to never let me near anything sharp ever again.

It didn't help, all it did was make me more secretive and thereby more dangerous to myself.

If anyone out there is considering self harm at the moment, I understand what you're going through, but I urge you to use CLEAN tools, and to wash and dress any wounds as soon as possible afterwards. I'm not condoning self harm in any way, but if it's going to happen then it should be made as "safe" as possible, just like recreational drug use, if it's going to be done, is something someone should educate themselves about the safety of.

I understand that many of you will be confused, that you're wondering why anyone would want to to hurt themselves and then try to make it better by putting on a plaster. But self-harm often isn't about the long term pain, but about the emotional release at that individual time. I've even heard of people spacing out during the act of self harming and not realizing what they've done until they came back round.

I want to look at this at a different approach though: how does self harm affect my relationships, both with my boyfriend and with my friends?

Being a self-harmer in a relationship is a huge thing for me. When my boyfriend and I first started dating he found it strange that I wore long-sleeved tops in summertime, and would wear a towel right to the edge of the swimming pool. He thought it was odd that I wore long sleeved gloves to my prom, and wouldn't take them off, even for the finger-food. Having scars, and sometimes fresh wounds on my body can be a pain and a hassle, but can also be awkward to brush off. There's only so many times you can say the cat scratched you, before people start to dig deeper.

Until I met my boyfriend I found it very hard to accept my body for what it was. He continually told me I was beautiful, and that even if I had issues with my body, he didn't. He meant well. When we started talking about having sex together, I started to panic about showing him my scars. I have unsightly marks all down my ribs and thighs, along my forearms, and on my ankles. All places that are really easy to cover up normally, but in the bedroom - not so easy. It was time to come clean, to tell him I am a self-harmer. It didn't change how he felt about me, but it did put a little strain on our relationship at first. He wasn't sure whether it was okay to go near the scars, he was very protective of me suddenly, and God-forbid anyone make a joke about self harmers in our presence. It was a strange and different side to him I'd never seen before. We chatted for hours about why and how and where and every other question he could think of, and I tried to answer each and everyone honestly.

It hurts him when I self harm, I know that, but I know it hurts him more when I won't tell him I've done it. He'd rather I tell him, than him finding out in bed. At first it felt really awkward going up to him and trying to tell him what I'd just done, and I think he too found it hard to know what to do or say, but sometimes it's not about the words. A hug and a murmured 'I love you' can do more for me than a huge long speech.

So although self harm is often a horribly misinformed subject, it is possible to self harm and be in a relationship, so here's my advice to anyone who finds that their partner injures themselves as a way of release:

• Never make them promise not to do it. Self harm is a coping method, if you don't provide them with another way to cope with their emotions, then they cannot stop, the guilt of having broken a promise to you may incline them to do more harm.

• Just be there for them. It's okay for you to be upset as well, but don't try to force them to talk about anything. Just sitting with them can do a world of good.

• Encourage them to be proactive, go to their GP, find an internet support group.

• Notice the warning signs. If your partner tends to want to self harm when their getting stressed, and you see them getting stressed in a certain situation, help to remove them from that situation.

Some internet support groups/advice sites which might help either the self harmer or their partner:

written 14 Jul 2008 . updated 29 Nov 2012

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