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