This is a rant/opinion piece on something that’s been bothering me for ages and since I saw ‘attention cutting’ was tackled in a way I vehemently disagreed with I thought, hey, I’ll do a bit of a counter-point.
I’ve been discussing self-injury online in some way since early 1999. Back then I was fifteen and communities as they exist now weren’t even a dream. There was StrongER and Secret Shame (and the BUS mailing list) and other scattered websites.
Something I’ve heard since then and I’ve seen tackled in many a self-injury ‘myths’ section is that ‘real’ self-injurers don’t self-injure for attention. It apparently doesn’t exist as a reason for self-injurers and people who do self-injure for attention do a disservice to self-injurers since apparently by self-injuring we’re doing it for reasons that contribute to the greater good.
I’d emphatically say that the majority of self-injurers do not self-injure for attention but that self-injuring for attention does exist and is an entirely legitimate reason. Some would even say it points to some underlying issues. Yes, unfortunately, these tend to be the most visible self-injurers, giving the idea to people who aren’t clued in that attention is the main reason for self-injury. However, I don’t think any self-injurer is obligated to self-injure for community approved reasons.
I’ve seen the real vs fake self-injurers issue discussed ad nauseum. I know it’s affected me personally and that I feel hesitant to reach out when I do plan to self-injure so I won’t be seen as looking for attention. I personally don’t discuss self-injury with friends and people outside my immediate family but there’s still those thoughts of ‘if I tell somebody they’ll think I’m looking for attention’.
Often the severity and amount of wounds is brought up when discussing those ‘fake’ attention seeking self-injurers with a hint of how many the ‘real’ self-injurer has and the legitimacy of their wounds. Personally, one of my breasts is one big scar and I left off cutting my arms nearly completely by 2003 since it attracts unwanted attention but the fact that I feel the need to mention that? It bothers me. It bothers me when people compare their wounds to a person who does ‘baby cuts’ for attention or whatever the severity and needs to show that they are more legitimate and that the attention seeker is doing a public disservice and, by the way, they don’t exist because ‘real’ self-injurers never, ever self-injure for attention.
Also, there is apparently a hierarchy in terms of people’s issues when it comes to the attention seekers. I’ve generally seen the mental health issues of attention seekers minimized and, of course, past abuse issues. Some people have real reasons for self-injuring and some don’t or so some people say. I’ll freely admit I was one of those girls in high school who fumed when my classmates would complain when their parents were so horrible and mean and grounded them when I was ashamed to bring any of my friends home because of my father and not because he was goofy or embarrassing in cutesy way. The first talk I had with my father after he found out I was self-injuring he self-injured in front of me (punched himself in the face and started bleeding). Yes, I was one of those who bought into the hierarchy and I was very bitter about it. However, I’ve learned over the years that people are individuals with problems that are very real to them and it’s not up to me or you to decide which one of us has more rights to talk, who has more right to decide that they want to cut their arm or burn their leg.
So back to the attention seeking. Yes, a small, visible minority of self-injurers self-injure for attention. Yes, people latch onto that being a reason for everybody else. However, do they deserve to be thrown out of the self-injury community and seen as people who don’t exist or have no real issues? No.
By the way, I don’t self-injure for attention. (;
edit: Something Kiba addressed that I think is legitimate. There is a lot of misinformation about attention seeking and self-injury, especially (in my opinion) when it concerns younger people. I know when I was in the youth system my acts of self-injury and even overdoses were outright met with statements like ‘that was for attention, right?’ from mental health professionals who were supposed to be helping me. In groups parents would discuss their children’s ‘attention seeking’ and the people running the groups wouldn’t say otherwise.
It wasn’t until I graduated to the adult system that the talk of attention seeking disappeared. Not just faded out but flat out was gone. I was thinking about that on the drive home and perhaps that is why with some younger self-injurers the attention seeker vs not issue comes up more often. If the people who are supposed to be helping you and are supposedly educated turn to the idea of the behavior being attention seeking and manipulative (which is flat out wrong in most cases, I think) then I’d think the young people being directly affected by this thinking would focus more on attention seeking not being a legitimate reason for self-injuring, since the ‘visible’ and attention-seeking self-injurer (as rare as they may be compared to people with other reasons) is giving bad publicity.
If supposedly educated adults and people in the news media offer attention-seeking as the main reason for self-injury instead of just the much rarer but highly visible thing it is, well, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are misled to believe self-injurers are attention-seekers.