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Why I Lie About Self-Harm (and What I Need From You)

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Article updated August 12, 2019.

The cat did it.

We have a new puppy.

Playing hockey.

I fell over.

I was in a fight.

I don’t know.


Burned it on the oven.

Shark attack.

A few of the many excuses myself and other have used to explain away injuries — injuries caused by ourselves.

Some are perhaps plausible, others utterly ridiculous. The response from the person we tell? More often it’s enough for them to move on no matter how ridiculous — that or they make a sarcastic remark. A teacher once replied to me, “Must have been a sharp paintbrush”

Neither of these responses are truly helpful.

The first is, for us, helpful in the sense it allows us to continue our self-destruction without bother — but in the grand scheme of things just reinforces that people don’t really care and continues to drive the stigma and shame.

The second, although on reflection I feel that reaction came from the right place, means they knew what it really was and they were trying to let me know that, challenging my excuse. But it again just exacerbates the guilt and shame.

Sometimes I think we just need people to give us the opportunity to be honest. “Are you sure?” Personally I would have always continued with whatever excuse, but even so, just saying, “Well I’m here if you want to talk or write something down.”

I had one teacher who always allowed me to talk. I can’t say I ever really talked about what I had done, but it gave me a platform if I needed it, and it taught me some people do care.

It’s not easy asking for help. Especially for us. More often than not we use self-harm as our coping mechanism, which probably means we haven’t ever really been able to openly talk, so asking for help and talking is a massive difficulty. When someone asks if we are OK, 9.9 times out of 10 we will say yes, or fine… and “fine” has its own meaning in my circles! We do this for a few reasons.

1. It’s easier to say this.
2. We don’t want to “burden” anyone.
3. We have most likely had our trust broken, and thus we don’t believe anyone actually cares.

Here comes the great test. Most people accept your first answer. Only those who care will ask sincerely (we can tell the difference). “No really, are you ok?”
Now I’m not saying this is right, but that’s how it is sometimes.

Sometimes (a lot of the time) it takes someone opening that door for you and reminding you the door is open. We need you to do that so we know it’s OK. When you’re going through whatever it is and you’re self-harming I cannot even begin to explain how much less of a person you feel, how much of a burden you feel like, how much of a waste of everyone’s time you believe you are, how worthless you feel. When you feel like that, approaching someone for help, telling someone how you really feel is the hardest thing to do because you don’t believe you matter.

Social media and technology gets a lot of slack these days, but it can massively help. Yes, young people spend a lot of time on their phones, but we can use this to our advantage. We may have a number we can text — texting is so much easier than having to talk. We may just write it down. It makes it easier for us to start the conversation without starting it face to face.

Let’s embrace technology.

When I was a kid there was just Samaritans. Did I need them? Yes. Did I ever ring them? No. If I could have text a worker or a designated person at school would I? Yes. Or email. Either.

It took me over 10 years to say the words “I self-harm” out loud.

We need to make it easier to have these conversations.

And we need you to listen and ask questions and be told it will be OK.

I’m getting better, but I still find it hard to talk, but if someone else asks the questions I can answer them.

Please don’t ever tell us to “just stop.” If it was that easy, don’t you think we would? You could also ruin any chance of us talking to you again as that just makes us feel like you haven’t listened and you don’t understand, again reinforcing that people don’t understand, or care, and pushing us further into ourselves.

You can’t ask someone to stop their only way of coping without giving them another — and even then… it takes time to change how you cope.

We sometimes lie because saying I’ve self-harmed is an impossible sentence, even if we want you to know because we need help.

We feel so much shame that asking for help or simply talking is the hardest thing in the world. We don’t know if it’s OK to talk about it. We need you to open that door in as many ways as possible: talking, emailing,texting, instant messaging etc.

Be sincere, be honest, give us time.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo by Patricia Enciso

Originally published: April 28, 2017
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