In this blog Rhoda Morrow, Counselling Coordinator in our Young People's Service challenges assumptions on why young people self-harm.

The counselling service at Children North East supports young people who have experienced self-harm or thoughts of harming themselves.

We understand it is a symptom of what they are experiencing and often is helping them survive their feelings so we are not shocked or judge what they have done.

I hope by writing about harming that we can start to challenge some of the assumptions people make about a person who harms.

There are many different ways someone may harm

Causing a deliberate risk to themselves is the only common factor.

If you think, “how can someone do that to themselves?” consider the last time you ate till you felt sick, drank enough alcohol to make the next day hell, went on a sun bed, got a tattoo, had your eyebrows done…The list of small things we do all the time knowing they will hurt or damage our body is really a list of ‘normal’ things.

So then ask yourself - Did you have that drink rather than do something about how stressed you are? Did you eat all the kids Easter eggs because you were feeling upset about how you look?

Sometimes the young people we meet for counselling about their “harming” have told us they do those things too.

Imagine you lived in a world where you could not control what was happening to you and it made you feel all sorts of emotional and physical things that make it feel like you are ill or going mad. Then imagine you are a teenager and everything around you is changing and you have to make decisions about your future when you don’t even know why you are crying. What would you do?

If we see an animal in a cage rubbing itself against their bars until they lose their fur we think “They’re not happy, how can we help them?” Someone who is harming are doing the same thing.   

Is self-harm attention seeking?

Many people still talk about attention seeking and harming in the same way as a form of judgement. As if wanting attention for your pain is a bad thing. As if reaching out for help and showing how you are suffering to the world is wrong.

I used to get quite annoyed about this judgement but over the years I’ve learned to accept human nature. When someone says “I have a headache” we tell them to go and take something or go and take a break. WE TELL THEM TO GO AWAY. If someone has a broken leg, we want to take them to the hospital and get it fixed. WE WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT. Maybe this is the real reason we push away people who harm. Because if we were honest with ourselves we would admit it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know what to do.

Ok so do that, look inside yourself and decide how you feel about self-harm. Maybe you don’t get it. Maybe you are just really sad that someone you love is in pain and you didn’t see why and you can’t do anything about it.

What happens next is up to you.

You can get more help on our advice pages.

Illustration by a young person receiving counselling.