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Are All Self Harmers Attention Seekers (TRIG)
Posted by Amyc1990
18th Jan 2014

This is a mystery the medical profession cannot seem to fathom. Two thirds of doctors and nurses seem to treat people well with dignity and respect as is deserved, however there are the unfortunate few who cannot see past the end of their noses and classify all of those with mental health problems especially self-harmers as attention seekers.

But what is the definition of an attention seeker? According to The Oxford Dictionary an attention seeker is someone who “attempts to attract the attention of other people, typically by disruptive or excessively extrovert behaviour.” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013) So I suppose self-harmers engage in disruptive and maladaptive behaviour so put simply I assume self-harmers are all attention seekers. However, are they really?

Most self-harm starts out as a secret habit, something that is hidden well under bracelets and sleeves. Only when it spirals out of control does it become a public problem. Many self-harmers have to attend Accident and Emergency, which is where this whole conundrum began for me. I struggle with self-harm and I come across a range of reactions and responses, these vary from downright pity and empathy to anger and sarcastic attitudes. I am also unfortunately in contact with the police a lot and heard over their radio system that they had me down as someone who “Craves attention” A pretty bold statement from a body of people who have met me for less then a few hours.

I have been labeled an attention seeker countless times, every time met with tears and retorts of “You don’t understand me.” I used to listen to P!nk’s Misunderstood album on repeat but now I try to confront it head on, and ask questions and try to explain to people the rationale behind my self-harm to help overcome the stigma attached to it.

I slowly and carefully explain although there is an element of wanting to receive care, and feeling safe with healthcare professionals there are also many other reasons I self-harm besides attention seeking. These are varied: for example I am addicted to inflicting pain upon myself, I crave the release of endorphins (which is further detailed below), it makes me feel in control, I like to punish myself as I feel guilty about my past and occasionally depending on which form of self harm I have done it is as an attempt to protect myself.

Endorphins, the natural painkiller I have become so accustomed to the release of means “Morphine within.” (Jasmine Sailing, 2013) Endorphins are one of only two opioid substances found in the brain. It is due to their opioid qualities that make them addictive. As the body becomes used to endorphins you need more to satisfy your craving, and at some point the level of endorphins will plateau meaning you can never get enough when you are a seasoned pain bearer.

It is not a pleasant thing to be called an attention seeker, particularly if like me you are purely after an endorphin hit. But why do we hate being called attention seekers? Everyone wants attention sometime surely? There is stigma attached to being an attention seeker, negative stigma. Whether there should be or not I don’t know. But one thing I know for sure is even if self-harming is purely for attention, don’t disregard it. Ask yourself why? Why has this person inflicted such terrible pain on themselves for attention? Something has got to be wrong somewhere! Why not ask, “Did you want some attention?” Nine times out of ten I will tell you the truth! Rather than accuse a self-harmer of being an attention seeker. Please remember we are human too.

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