understanding self-harm

“Study Shows Nearly Half Of Eating Disorder Patients Self-Harm”

this is the title of an article in medicalnews. it made me stop and think because it shows a certain line of thinking about what constitutes self-harm.

in mental health circles, “self harm” is polite code for people who cut themselves, or who engage in similar practices such as self-bruising, burning, etc.

my first question is, why is it necessary to call it self-harm? why not say out loud what it is? not naming something is just another way of shaming.

self-harming of any kind is always connected to shame and secrecy. often shame and secrecy is part and parcel of the trauma that brings on the urge to hurt oneself. therefore it doesn’t really make sense to shroud the activity in the taboo of vague words. often, bringing the self-harming activity out in the open already brings at least some relief.

i propose that rather than making the words “self harm” some kind of code phrase, why not just look at what these words stand for in ordinary language. (and, please, my philosopher friends, if you have a conniption at the term “ordinary language“, hold your horses for just a moment and save them for your comments).

when we look at the words “self harm” from that perspective, it becomes clear that we all engage in it to some degree or another. people who consistently work 100-hour weeks self harm. people who consistently drink too much self-harm. people who smoke even though three of their relatives died of lung cancer self harm. people who sabotage themselves by consistently underearning self-harm.

it seems to be a human trait – one of the ones that some of us work diligently at eradicating. but many just keep on trucking with these self-harming behaviours.

some forms of self-harm are more sanctioned by society than others. this is where shame and secrecy come in (i often think that people who feel the urge to do this may be just as tragically attracted to the shame and secrecy as to the relief that comes through self harming).

one of the things that has always intrigued me is that, say, someone who cuts herself once or twice a month is considered much more mentally unstable than someone who goes to kentucky fried chicken three times a week. bottom line, the latter person is harming himself more than the former.

this is why the headline seems a little odd to me. “nearly half of all people who have eating disorders self harm”. well – yes! they hurt themselves with eating too much or too little food. that’s probably a more significant issue than the self harm (and of course the over/undereating itself is in almost all cases again a sign of something more significant – but that’s material for another post).

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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