Tag Archives: self harm

When we blame others we give up our power to change

TW – Trigger Warning – this blog has content on self harm. If you think this may trigger you, please do not read any further.

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I heard “when we blame others, we give up the power to change” recently and I was struck by how this can be applied to so many situations. Since my blog is focused on mental health issues I thought I’d explore this a little further.

I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. But all I could do was whisper “I’m find”.As most of you will know I have a history of self harm, at times I have used harming myself as a way to cope with various stressors. Generally speaking, something would happen, I would feel stressed, anxious, scared etc and the feelings inside me would feel overwhelming. Some people describe self harm as a way to release pressure. It’s always been a deeply personal thing, rarely shared with others, I would only tell someone if the wounds needed medical attention.

One experience with self harm was very different. I visited a friend who’d been in a psychiatric hospital for a long time and was showing, by her own admission, very little progress. The environment was very safe and she wasn’t experiencing any challenges that would prepare her for life on the outside. I asked in, what I thought was, as sensitive a way as possible, if she thought it was beneficial for her to be in hospital? The conversation didn’t really go anywhere so I thought it best to just leave the thought with her. After the visit, I learnt that she had self harmed and was saying it was my fault she’d done it because I said she “didn’t need to be in hospital”. For starters, I didn’t say that so I feel sorry that she took what I said the wrong way but let’s get one thing straight…

The only person responsible for self harm is the person who does it to themselves.

I’m sorry if that’s harsh but, to be blunt, no one else has ever taken a blade to my skin. No matter whether the actions of another person lead to you feeling upset or angry, this does not mean they cause the self harm.

When it comes to recovery, language matters!

I’m going to continue with the self harm example, but anything can be substitute, for example eating disordered behaviours or drinking too much alcohol, or even situations that require self control such as losing weight. If you’ve ever said anything like “I can’t exercise because of the kids” or similar, it’s worth thinking about who you’re giving the power to.

Thinking “you made me self harm”, gives the power to the other person. Why should the other person take responsibility for your emotions?!

It’s far more helpful to think “the things you said led to me feeling angry; in turn, I managed my anger by self harming”. Chances are, someone, at some point, will do something that leads to you feeling angry, upset or stressed again. But it’s up to you what you do with those feelings.

This does not need to turn into an unhelpful self blame session – simply taking responsibility for our actions is an empowering. It gives us the opportunity to change our path, although some actions may feel automatic, if we want to, we can pause and choose.

Little girl looking longingly over a barb wire fence, quote says “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if you don’t you’ll find an excuse”

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Taking responsibility is empowering

It’s very easy to blame other people for our feelings. We may say “he made me so angry” or “you’re so irritating”, we all do it in the heat of the moment. But by using this language we are shirking responsibility for our own emotions.

It’s also quite attacking if someone says something like this. I once asked some honest questions of a friend, meant in the kindest way, I asked if she felt she was making progress in her recovery or whether the treatment she was receiving was keeping her stuck. I always want the best for my friends and living in hospital isn’t the life I want for anyone, let alone someone I care about. I later heard that following my visit she self harmed and was blaming me for this. Of course, I felt awful but I was also confused – I did not give her the harmful implement, I did not stand over her and make her do it – how could I be responsible for her harming herself? In this moment I vowed never to blame anyone else for my behaviour. If I self harmed (something I haven’t done for many years) I knew it was me that chose to do it – yes, at times, it did not feel like a choice but no one else made me do it, therefore responsibility lay with me.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions can be difficult, even scary but I think it’s a vital part of mental health recovery. It can also be a helpful thing for anyone indulging in harmful behaviour. How easy is it to say, “I’ve had such a stressful day, I need a drink” for example.

If we stop and think about the thoughts we’re having and the feelings that have developed, we can choose how we behave. How empowering is that?!
If I’ve had a stressful day, it’s natural for me to lose my appetite, for other people, they may be inclined to eat more, or drink alcohol, or behave in a snappy way towards other people. But ultimately, no matter what feels natural, we can choose to go along with this or we can choose to act in an opposing way.

Anorexia is a illness where the sufferer converts distressing thoughts and feelings into avoiding food. For me, the thoughts and feelings were unbearable but avoiding food was something tangible I could do. In recovery, the neural pathways that connected painful feelings with avoiding food were well trodden. I was told, to recover, I needed to eat but no one could make me eat. It was me who had to make the effort. If I managed to get through a challenging meal, that was down to me. Yes, I’d appreciate any support given, but I was responsible for my actions.

I’m definitely not saying that mental illness is a choice – no one would deliberately choose for their brain to malfunction! If we are at a point where we’re able to engage in therapy and/or if medication is helping with the chemical imbalances, we can start to take back our lives, bit by bit, we can choose how we react to our changing condition. Of course, mental illness recovery is a lot more complicated than a few simple choices but if we do not take responsibility, we’re never going to get anywhere!

Anyone can fall into habitual behaviour. For example always having a drink with a meal or staying in bed when feeling low or anxious. These neural pathways are familiar and feel ok, familiar, safe, “normal” even!

It can be incredibly diffciult to break familiar patterns of behaviour or to build new patterns, especially if there are elements of behavioural or chemical addiction involved. When breaking or making habits, we often talk about will power and we feel like we don’t have enough of this elusive product! However, we can choose to be disciplined by making this decision:

What do we want now? vs what do we want most?

Do I want to have a drink, to binge, to sit on the sofa, to say ‘yes’ to something that will tire me out, to say ‘no’ to something because I’m scared…

Or

Do I want to take responsibility for being a healthy, happpier me?

I know it’s not easy! But it is possible for us to take responsibility for our decision and take control of our lives!

Myth#6 If you survive a suicide attempt you didn’t really want to die

Trigger warningthis blog talks frankly about suicide, if you may find this content triggering, please do not read any further.
Even if you’re not triggered by this blog, please be aware you may find it distressing.
Please use your usual support network or contact a national agency such as The Samaritans on 116123 for support.
Unfortunately, I have made a number of attempts on my life. Each and every one, I fully intended to die. Anyone who attempts suicide will have different reasons, for me, I was seriously mentally unwell. Depression stripped me of feeling human and created the perfect environment for intrusive thoughts and beliefs about the world being better off without me, I believed I was going to feel hopeless and helpless and it was so unbearable, death by suicide was the only option. Anorexia caused my brain to be devoid of the nutrients that it needed to attempt to differentiate fact from fiction.
With the active debate about assisted suicide, there are people who do not meet the criteria for a mental illness but believe their life or situation is not worth living, they may live with a chronic illness or permanent disability, they believe death by suicide is a rational decision to make but are unable to carry it out themselves and ask seek assistance – I’m not here to debate the rights and wrong of this, suffice to say, people with a desire to end their life may or may not fulfill the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental illness.
It’s important to remember that suicidal intent isn’t black and white. Multiple factors combine to measure someone’s intent, include: timing, expectation of fatality, preparations, purpose of action, medical rescuability and premeditation. Beck’s Suicide Intent Scale has been found to be useful in predicting death by suicide.
Whether suicide is completed on not, no-one but the person themselves really knows what’s gone on, unless they have been able to accurately articulate their thoughts and feelings prior to the event.
Some methods are more likely to result in a completed suicide than others but when ill it is not always possible to this logically about what method would be “best” and it usually depends on availability of resources.
(I did tell you this was going to be a frank blog!)
Some stats show that those in the medical profession, (including doctors, nurses, dentists and vets) and those in agriculture are at high risk of completed suicide due to their knowledge relating to suicide methods as well as access to means (drugs and/or firearms). People without precise knowledge and/or access to means will have no less intent but their “choice” or method may be less likely to result in completed suicide.
There are also a number of reasons why males are more likely to die by suicide than females but this does not mean than a female who survives a suicide attempt did not intend to die.
I can only talk about my experience of surviving suicide attempts but having spoken to other people who have survived, I know our story share similarities.
Waking up, coming round or coming to the realisation that an attempt has been “unsuccessful” brings up a number of emotions: (please note, the language I’m using is intended to emphasise the feelings surrounding suicide, I do not intend to offend or belittle the feelings)

  • Disappointment – “I have not “achieved” what I wanted”. Feeling even more of a failure than I did before – this is a very dark place.
  • Fear – “What are people going to think?” And “I’m going to have to live with what I’ve done” whether it’s ongoing physical effects of the attempt (e.g. broken bones, liver damage) or now living with the mental scarring/pain of the attempt.
  • Guilt – about having not completed suicide (continuing to believe it’s the correct action to take)
  • Shame – for the “fuss” or worry caused to those around. My attempts were often linked to guilt about taking up NHS resources – when my attempt was “unsuccessful”, I was taking even more resources.
  • Relief – after one attempt in particular, it felt like I’d woken up. This was a particularly violent attempt, no one could understand how I’d survived – but I did and I saw this as quite a powerful sign that I should be alive and I had a renewed desire to get through my illness.

It can be difficult to admit feeling relieved, it may not be that the person didn’t want to complete suicide, it’s likely that a new perspective has been found after the event.
People who show warning signs and/or attempt suicide need to be taken seriously.
It is not ok for professionals to say “we can’t save them all” (they used to teach this at medical school to relieve the guilt if a patient completed suicide). I’m not saying professionals should feel guilty, I’m saying nonchalance is inappropriate when it comes to preventable death from any illness, mental illness included.
Nor is it ok for professionals to say “this is their normal behaviour” and ignore warning signs of suicide. (Seriously, I’ve had a psychiatrist deny me support because they thought I was “just attention seeking” – sadly, the lack of support led to causing irreversible damage to my body in an attempt to take my life.)
I was plagued by suicidal ideation (thoughts and plans about suicide) for years. Even when in active recovery from depression and anorexia, I continued to keep suicide on the back burner – it was always an options if things got too bad. This may sound strange to some people, it will not sound strange to anyone who has gone through the pain and torture of mental illness.
However, I could only break free from mental illness once I made a commitment and said to myself “suicide is not an option”. To those still on the brink, keeping suicide as an option, may feel “safe” but you will never experience how freeing it is to finally say “I’m choosing to live, there IS a way through and I AM going to find it!”
Breaking free and turning your back on suicide as an option does not diminish the severity of your pain – it is about choosing life over an otherwise grey existence.
It is also important to recognise that people whose behavior is risky but they do not intent to die are experiencing severe mental pain. Suicidal or para-suicidal behaviour should not lead to feelings of shame, mental illness leads to people behaving out of character.
With this blog, I have wanted to speak openly about death by suicide, just as we should speak openly about death by other means. People who have attempted suicide and survived should not be discriminated against by medical professionals – I hope by speaking out, I’m chipping away at the taboo and stigma surrounding the issue.