Rebecca Hill
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Last night, whilst sitting in my bi-weekly training group one of my peers was talking about a self-harm workshop that she had attended earlier in the week.

She spoke very highly of the training and told us that it had been run by SELF HARM UK,
an organisation that up until now I hadn’t heard of.

(Click on the SelfHarm logo below to find out more.)

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Self-harm is a subject very close to my heart.

Before I go on let me just dispel a massive myth.
Self-harm is far more common than you might think.
Many of us self-harm every single day.
Self-harm is anything that knowingly causes harm to ourselves opposed to it being as a result of an accident. For example having one glass too many knowing we will likely end up with a headache in the morning, staying up late to see the end of the film knowing we will feel exhausted the next day, indulging in calorific food knowing that the scales will read higher at the end of the week.

Self-harm operates on a scale:
insignificant – mild – moderate – severe – life threatening
And let me also tell you that because of this scale, self-harm doesn’t have to equate to mental illness.
Self-harm can be and often is a coping mechanism for unwanted feelings:
Oh it’s been a long and tiring day (let’s crack open the wine) that will make me feel happier.
Oh I feel stressed (watching this film is taking my mind off it) I am enjoying being engaged in another world.
Oh I feel overwhelmed (eating some chocolate will soothe all that) I feel satisfied.

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So traditional ‘self-harmers’ as they are portrayed often do exactly the same but in a more severe way because their feelings are that much more exaggerated. The best way I can describe it is finding a vent. Feeling so totally consumed with overwhelming feelings that creating a physical sensation of pain feels like the only way to distract your otherwise completely preoccupied mind.
Imagine being trapped inside a real life nightmare. So that your thoughts and imagination are generating the most horrendous images, words, scenarios etc and you feel like you can’t escape. But the moment you inflict pain on yourself then your previously busy mind immediately shifts focus and the nightmare ends. All of the preoccupation dies down and you feel a sense of relief. Just like you do when using day-to-day strategies like wine, staying up late and overeating.
After years of dedicating myself to the world of management/recovery and positive mental health I am well versed in this topic. I know that ‘self-harming’ comes in all shapes and sizes and is different for everyone who engages in it.However yesterday I felt a little shocked. A new term was offered that I hadn’t come across before:
SELF TROLLING

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Unless you’ve been living under a bridge (excuse the pun!) then we all now know that ‘trolling’ means to ridicule people on the internet. Just like a troll from the children’s stories we grew up with, this often means the perpetrator tries to hide before jumping out on their victim. So sometimes but not always they will use fake accounts to conceal their true identity.
Inevitably with the positive advancements in technology a parallel of negative advancements occur too. Social media is incredibly positive for so many reasons but ‘trolling’ is a polar negative.
The press have infinite tales of people who can’t cope with the stress, burden, embarrassment, shame and toxicity of these crushing interactions. Often the worst affected are those still at school.
So what’s self-trolling?
Sadly a new form of self-harm.

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Instead of a stranger attacking the person on social media. The person creates their own troll account and attacks themselves.

Like I said earlier, everyone’s self-harm is different so there are infinite differences between each case but here are just a few themes that may be relevant:

  • The person has been told nasty or bad things about themselves so many times that they want to create a profile that they can identify with as they now believe this to be true. Writing a negative post or comment reaffirms and strengthens their only sense of identity.
  • The person has such little self-worth and self-esteem that they feel the need to reinforce this impression of themselves.
  • The person feels a sense of comfort in having control over the negativity.
  • The person feels a sense of relief in venting these thoughts that are consuming them.
  • The person takes comfort from having their friends defend against the negative comments being made about them.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
  • Does someone you know spend hours on social media?
  • Does someone you know appear preoccupied or fixated with things said about them?
  • Does someone you know report of unknown trolls?
  • Does someone you know appear to receive many hurtful comments or posts from an online troll?
  • Does someone you know have identity issues?
  • Does someone you know seem to be unhappy, depressed, self-loathing, anxious, hidden away, lethargic, disengaged, failing in their studies/job, in poor physical health, neglecting themselves?
  • Does someone you know appear to have changed from a happy and fun loving person into an unrecognisable, withdrawn and preoccupied shell of who they used to be?
WHAT YOU CAN DO

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  • Don’t panic and don’t come on too strong.
    Approach the person from a calm, loving, open and understanding position.
  • Initiate conversations to let them know that you are there for them. Be aware that pace plays an important role, trust takes time to establish, even if you have known the person their entire life.
  • Learn to communicate with the person from their perspective. Although it might be alien to you and not how you view the world strive to be empathic, non-judgmental and supportive.
  • Make space for healthy and engaging activities (dog walks, shopping, exercise classes, cooking) ideally activities that require a phone or laptop to not be part of the process. Don’t enforce this or apply any pressure but have it as a goal to work towards.
  • Gently encourage supportive dialogue.
  • Tell someone that you trust (in confidence), who has a good relationship with the person and see if they can get the person to open up. Don’t be offended if that person isn’t you. It is better to get someone facing this challenge some positive support regardless of who that person is.
  • Make therapy an accessible option. Seek out an organisation or private therapist that could professionally help them. Alternatively just make it known that you will be happy to support that decision if the person is willing to give it a try.
  • Gently encourage a conversation with the GP.
Often people who self-harm at a serious level are riddled with feelings of guilt and shame. It can therefore be really difficult for them to admit it or be open about it. For the most part self-harm of any kind is normally a very private matter because sadly it is still perceived by many as a failing or a weakness.

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Images courtesy of:
trolldollsguide.com/dam-trolls/
selfharm.co.uk/
fanpop.com/clubs/junk-food/images/35201384/title/not-feeling-bad-about-yourself-when-eat-junk-food-photo
midlifemoments.me/2016/03/16/the-troll-under-the-bridge-change/
telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/02/19/why-teenagers-are-self-trolling-on-websites-like-reddit/
careersadviceforparents.org/2014/07/nurture-high-effectiveness-in-your-child.html

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