Of Self Harm (There’s More To This Lesson Than “Please Don’t”)

Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners has to ask: what on earth have you creatures been doing to yourselves? The Lady of the Manners has gotten an absolute slew of letters recently from Snarklings worried about their friends. Even worse has been the flurry of letters from Snarklings who are worried about themselves. The common point of worry? Cutting.

Now, the Lady of the Manners wants to make it quite clear to all of you that she is not about to turn Gothic Charm School into a syrupy after-school special.


The Lady of the Manners also wants to make it quite clear that self harm is not good. No matter what sort of stress you or people close to you may be suffering, hurting yourself is not going to improve the situation. Oh, the Lady of the Manners understands the train of thought that can lead to cutting or other self-damaging habits. When one is extremely upset or near panic from stress, the idea of inflicting a small amount of damage that one can control as a release is terribly seductive. But the idea is a trap, because that small, controlled amount of self-harm can lead to larger problems: the need to keep secrets from people you are close to, for fear that they won’t understand; the shame, because maybe you feel that you should be able to cope with everything, and that cutting yourself is just one more failure on your part; the fear that if people knew you did this sort of thing, they wouldn’t understand why, and perhaps think that you’re just doing it as a manipulative ploy for attention. Or they’ll think that you are in life-threatening danger and in need of constant supervision.

So what if you are hurting yourself? What should you do? That’s what one reader asked the Lady of the Manners:

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I uhh…I cut myself. I realize that some people do it as self punishment and others are just asking for help, but thats not why I do it. I’m not quite sure why I do it either, which is a bit confusing. I wanted to know If you had advice to help me stop this habit.
Thanks, Bella.

There’s no one good way to stop this sort of habit. Saying “Just don’t do it”, while to the point, isn’t at all helpful. One time-honored way to remember to do, or not to do, something is to wear a rubber band on your wrist. When you feel the need to cut yourself, snap the rubber band against your skin instead. The only problem the Lady of the Manners sees with this is then how do you stop snapping yourself with rubber bands? For that, you need to figure out what is driving you to cutting yourself. Is it because you’re looking for a way to control what is going on in your life? You need to spend some time thinking about what you’ve been going through, and see if you can pinpoint what made you think “Oh, cutting myself sounds like the thing to do”. The Lady of the Manners isn’t being flippant about this; if you can determine what made you decide to start doing this, then finding a way to stop doing it will be easier.

Don’t feel that you have to wrestle with this on your own, either. Find someone you trust that you can talk to; a parent, a relative, a teacher, or a friend. Be aware that no matter how calmly you present this information to them, there is going to be a certain amount of freaking out on their side. No one wants to hear that someone they know is hurting themselves. But you must talk to someone about this, because if whatever is going on in your life is enough to make you decide to take up cutting, then it’s probably something you need an outside perspective on. Try to remember that whoever you talk to about this is probably going to seem at least a little bit angry; while yes, some of that anger will indeed be directed at you for doing this to yourself, a large part of that anger will be aimed at themselves for not realizing that things had gotten to that point with you. Your friends, relatives, and teachers want you to be happy; finding out that someone you care about isn’t happy and that you didn’t realize it can be a huge blow.

And what if you’re the person that someone turns to when they’re hurting themselves?

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I’m going to be short and to the point in addressing my problem because it is a problem that needs an urgent solution: two of my friends are cutting themselves. They said that it helps them to take their mind off of problems as well as cut down on emotional stress on an online-journal, and while it could be just a call for attention, I believe that they’re being honest because the both of them are under a lot of stress right now. One of them….well, his parents are getting divorced…and the other…not to be rude to her, but she is highly over-dramatic and tends to make up problems where there aren’t any…due to misinterpretation of people and their intents. I haven’t talked to them yet, mainly because I’m afraid that I’ll start screaming at them..like…”HOW COULD YOU BE CUTTING YOURSELVES, GRAAAAAAAAWRL.” I’m pretty sure that will do more harm than good and that is why I really need your help in figuring out how to address them on this highly sensitive matter without them feeling cornered.


Black Rose

You’re absolutely right, screaming at them won’t help matters and would quite probably make them feel defensive. (However, the Lady of the Manners completely understands your impulse to shake them and scream “HOW COULD YOU BE CUTTING YOURSELVES”, because that was her first reaction.) If someone is cutting themself, they’re already in a somewhat fragile state. Yelling at them, getting angry at them, or making them feel ashamed isn’t going to help matters one bit.

The first thing you need to determine is if you can talk to them about this together, or is this something you should approach one-on-one with each of them? Once you know that, then sit one or both of them down and try saying something along these lines:

“Look, I know you’re under a lot of stress, and you’re trying to find ways to release it. But hurting yourself, no matter how small it may be, is NOT the answer. It’s just going to make things worse, because the cutting will end up being something you’ll feel you have to hide from other people, and then you’ll be stressed about that, too. Vicious circles aren’t good for stress.”

Ask them why they’re cutting themselves. Be warned, they may not really be sure why they’re doing it, just that it seemed to be the only way to feel things in a manner that they could control. But talk to them about it, and see if you can find some answers together. If your friends keep cutting themselves, or say that they don’t want to stop, be brutally honest with them. Tell them that you don’t believe this is a good solution to their problems, and if you think that they’re going to keep doing this, you’re going to have to let someone in authority know. (Make sure you know a good authority figure to go to, be it a parent, teacher, or older friend.) And then follow through on that statement. It’s very good of you to want to help your friends, but sometimes you can’t help your friends without extra help for yourself.

As to other things they can do to try and relieve the stress they’re under? Hmm. Listening to (and dancing/thrashing around to) favorite songs? Methodically tearing pieces of paper into shreds? Playing video games where you get to blow things up? One of the Lady of the Manners’ friends is fond of going to thrift stores, purchasing very cheap ceramics, and then smashing them to bits. (Lay down a plastic tarp and use a baseball bat or croquet mallet for the smashing. The Lady of the Manners has tried this, and it is a very satisfying way to vent stress, worry, and anger.)

As the Lady of the Manners said earlier, she does understand why someone would think that cutting or hurting themselves would make them feel better. But it’s never the answer, and she hopes that her writing about this will be helpful in some way to any Snarkling who is struggling with this sort of behavior.

Well. Perhaps the next lesson here at Gothic Charm School will be something a bit less upsetting . Something simpler and less fraught, like club etiquette or fashion advice, maybe. As always, please write to Gothic Charm School with your questions and comments.

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