Common Myths about Self-Injury
Self-harm is usually a failed suicide attempt.
This myth persists despite a wealth of studies showing that, although people who self-injure may be at a higher risk of suicide than others, they distinguish betwen acts of self-harm and attempted suicide. Many, if not most, self-injuring people who make a suicide attempt use means that are completely different to their preferred methods of self-inflicted violence.
People who self-injure are crazy and should be locked up.
Tracy Alderman, Ph.D., author of The Scarred Soul, addressed this:
People who self-harm are just trying to get attention.
A wise friend once emailed me a list of attention-seeking behaviors: wearing nice clothing, smiling at people, saying "hi", going to the check-out counter at a store, and so on. We all seek attention all the time; wanting attention is not bad or sick. If someone is in so much distress and feels so ignored that the only way he can think of to express his pain is by hurting his body, something is definitely wrong in his life and this isn't the time to be making moral judgments about his behavior.
That said, most poeple who self-injure go to great lengths to hide their wounds and scars. Many consider their self-harm to be a deeply shameful secret and dread the consequences of discovery.
Self-inflicted violence is just an attempt to manipulate others.
Some people use self-inflicted injuries as an attempt to cause others to behave in certain ways, it's true. Most don't, though. If you feel as though someone is trying to manipulate you with SI, it may be more important to focus on what it is they want and how you can communicate about it while maintaining appropriate boundaries. Look for the deeper issues and work on those.
Only people with Borderline Personality Disorder self-harm.
Self-harm is a criterion for diagnosing BPD, but there are 8 other equally important criteria. Not everyone with BPD self-harms, and not all people who self-harm have BPD (regardless of practitioners who automatically diagnose anyone who self-injures with BPD).
If the wounds aren't "bad enough," self-harm isn't serious.
The severity of the self-inflicted wounds has very little to do with the level of emotional distress present. Different people have different methods of SI and different pain tolerances. The only way to figure out how much distress someone is in is to ask. Never assume; check it out with the person.
Only teen-aged girls self-injure.
In five years of existence, the bodies-under-siege email list has had members of both genders, from six continents, and ranging in age from 14-60+. It's a person-who-has-no-other-way-to-cope thing, not a teenage (or female or American or whatever) thing.
See also Self-Injury.