I’ve mentioned my struggles with trichotillomania before here on Gurl and while this is a problem that I’ve dealt with on and off ever since I was a kid, I recently learned something about it that I’ve never considered before. According to the NHS, trichotillomania can be considered self-harm. This freaked me out, because I usually associated self-harm with cutting, which I also–falsely–associated with suicidal ideation.
For me, trichotillomania is more of a compulsive habit that I end up doing when I’m bored and reclining with my laptop or something I do unconsciously in high stress situations. But when I am aware of my actions, I usually don’t stop. As much as I hate pulling my hair, in a twisted sort of way it can feel relieving and reduces phantom tension that I didn’t know I had. For people who self-harm, their actions also temporarily relieve anxiety or tension.
The more I researched, the more I realized that I made a ton of assumptions about self-harm that were straight up wrong. Here are some misconceptions about self-harm that you should definitely be aware of:
1) Self-harm isn’t just about suicidal intent
While self-harm is often linked to suicide and many suicidal people self-harm, most people who engage in self-injury don’t have suicidal intentions at all.
2) Self-harm goes beyond cutting
Like I said, I usually associated self-harm with cutting, but there are other disorders and actions that fall under the self-harm umbrella. This includes hair pulling (trichotillomania), picking at wounds or interfering with the healing process, intentionally hitting, bruising or injuring yourself, abusing medication, some eating disorder symptoms, etc.
3) Self-harm can have many different sources
Many people who self-harm do it as a result of anxiety issues, difficult home or school life, or trauma. Self-injuring can also be prompted by depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. This is important because while self-harming by cutting is certainly very different than self-harming by hair pulling, they can both might stem from the same feelings of anxiety, tension, depression, self-loathing, guilt, etc
4) Self-harm isn’t just about getting attention
Some people (i.e. jerks) think that self-harm is all just attention seeking garbage. There is a difference between a cry for help and a cry for attention. That person you think is just showing off her self-injury probably needs help. Nobody is regularly harming themselves just to look cool.
5) Self-harm is nothing to be ashamed of
There can be a lot of feelings of shame and disgust when it comes to self-harm. I know that after I have a hair pulling binge, I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself and ugly after I look at the damage. The temporary relief doesn’t make up for the feelings of guilt that I experience afterwards. But shaming myself isn’t helpful and it does more harm than good.
Whether your experiences with self-harm are severe or mild, it doesn’t hurt to talk with your friends, family or a mental health professional about getting some help. You’d be surprised by how many people you interact with every day experience similar problems and also need someone to talk to.
Do you struggle with self-harm? Are there any other misconceptions of self-harm that really grinds your gears? Tell us in the comments!