A real-life story
She is sitting at a table, smoking, while talking with her boyfriend. She is in emotional pain. She is 21 and very insecure, despite the fact that she is often told how lucky she is, because she is a good person, beautiful and outgoing. She sits smiling and chatting.
At some point the conversation turns a bit personal, painful, and she hides her smoking hand under the table. As she talks, she draws her cigarette to her left hand and steadily holds the lit cigarette against her skin and starts burning it. She holds the pain in. It’s under control. She is feeling relief. A kind of distraction from the feelings the conversation brings up
The burn, after about a minute, turns white. As large as a five cent coin. She is still hiding her hand under the table. Her face shows nothing all the while. No pain, not a twitch. Her boyfriend notices nothing. That girl, was me.
It’s all about relief
The young woman – me – hadn’t learnt how to deal with her feelings, with pain, with life. That was the only way she knew how to find relief. I now know I wasn´t alone in feeling that way.
Overtly physical self-harm:
According to Cornell University about 17 percent of college students, 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men have cut, burned, carved or harmed themselves in other ways, reports a new survey.
These types are much less popularly disclosed. One percent of young people who practice self harm, keep doing it way into adulthood. A percentage of these end up committing suicide since few seek help.
Suicide numbers have gone up in the last 40 years. Why? Maybe because society is less forgiving, more aggressive, more judgmental, expecting success and exerting more pressure to succeed, to be happy, be strong, hide feelings.
Adolescence: that fragile time
Adolescence is marked by taking risks, pushing limits, rebelling, rejecting adults values. Trying to find your own identity in a world that fights against individuality. Adolescents crave acceptance, belonging, at a very confusing time. This is normal. Most of us have gone through this phase and survived.
Coping with pain
Other adolescents have a harder time coping because of their upbringing. Maybe they were abused in childhood, were abandoned. These adolescents may not know how to express their feelings, tension, pain, discomfort, and anger. Self-harm is a way to cope with anger, frustration, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts. Some feel numb having hidden their feelings for so long, they have deadened them and found self-harm, as a way to feel something, anything, but something.
Self-harm releases the tension of living and many find solace through self inflicted pain. However, this relief is shortly lived and may become addictive according to an article in The New York Times. Also mentioning some celebrities who have indulged in this unhealthy practice, like Angelina Jolie.
Other underlying reasons could be due to mental conditions, stress, depression, anxiety. Some who suffer from, psychosis, PTSD and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and a host of mental illnesses.
If you are a parent or friend and suspect self-harm:
Signs to look out for:
How to help and encourage a problem teen if you suspect self-harm:
I know what I’m talking about, and yes, you recover, and forget this actually was a part of you! Most teens who engage in this behavior outgrow it. But indeed, the causes have to be dealt with.
A film to watch: Sad but does explain self-harm to an extreme. “Secretary” . To me, it’s a love story. But, that’s me. Cautionary: the content may affect very sensitive people.