Myths and Misunderstandings about Self-Harm

  • Myth 1: People who self-harm are attempting suicide
    • Fact: Self-harm is most often used as a way to keep living despite experiencing emotional distress, rather than a way to end their life
  • Myth 2: People who self-harm are just attention-seeking
    • Fact: In fact, they tend to keep their self-harming a secret as a result of feelings of embarrassment, shame or guilt as well as not expecting others to understand or that it is a deeply personal act. It is not ‘just attention-seeking’ however sometimes it can be a cry for help
  • Myth 3: Don’t approach a person who self-harms, leave it to the professionals
    • Fact: Taking time to listen without judging encourages people to get their problems out into the open; the first and essential step along the road to recovery. You don’t need to focus, or even discuss, the self-harming, rather focus on the distress that is underlying the need to harm
  • Myth 4: You will know if someone is self-harming if they have cuts on their arms
    • Fact: Cutting is one form of self-harm; others include burning, hitting, bruising, swallowing, poisoning, etc. There is usually a great deal of effort made to keep the injuries and scars hidden; including actions that leave no mark or a mark in an area hidden by clothing
  • Myth 5: Self-harming is just the latest fashion and young people will simply grow out of it
    • Fact: Self-harm is not a phase or a fashion; read our blog on the different functions of self-harming. Listening to certain music, or dressing in certain ways does not lead to self-harming. People of all ages, backgrounds and of both genders self-harm. Self-harm is always a signal that something is seriously wrong

What is Self-Harming?

In its broadest sense, self-harm describes a wide range of acts that people do to themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way, which are damaging; includes cutting, burning, scalding, banging heads and other body parts against walls, hair-pulling, biting, swallowing or inserting objects as well as self-poisoning. It is a practice that has not fully settled on a name with other terms frequently being used; self-injury, self inflicted violence, self-injurious behaviour and self mutilation. Currently the phrase Deliberate Self-Harm (DSH) is being used in professional contexts.

Importantly, Self-harm in defined as inflicting immediate and direct physical damage or pain without the intent to kill oneself. The damage can be alarming with the uninformed not being able to understand and, therefore, making the assumption that the act was an attempt at suicide. Self-harming has many varied functions, but it is always a sign of emotional distress and that something is seriously wrong.

It is listed in the DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) as a trait for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder and often associated with mental illness, trauma & abuse, low self-esteem & perfectionism and eating disorders.

People self-harm for a number of reasons, for some people self-harm provides the means to cope with overwhelming emotions, a way to control feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. For others, self-harm temporarily combats feelings of numbness to the world around them. It is important to bear in mind that everybody’s experience is unique, and there are no universal rules or reasons for self-harm.

Read further about the different function of self-harming.

Borderline Personality Disorder in the Media

Many of my clients are devastated at the very suggestion that they have a mental health diagnosis, especially one as notorious as Borderline Personality Disorder. I have had patients in tears after looking up the diagnosis online where they have found a great deal of anger expressed against people that are supposed to be like them. And absolutely, both in and out of public life, there is a focus on the destructive elements. However, there are some key points to note about people that fall within this category:

  • they have positive and negative characteristics like everyone else, just more extreme
  • some are more extreme than others, like anything else
  • they make up a significant portion of the general population: between 1 in 20 to 1 in 50 people
    • they are not some strange outlying alien species, but part of your everyday life
  • the more extreme characteristics are stress related and not evident everyday
    • the more extreme behaviours relate to primary attachment figure, i.e. people close to them
  • treatment offers significant gains that make real differences

Below are some examples of borderline people or characteristics in popular media that we see every day. Hopefully, this will both normalise and show that these difficult traits can have positive aspects. These are intense people so they can be very charismatic, loyal, loving, intelligent, sensitive, humorous, among many other attributes.

Celebrities with BPD

The following have shown strong Borderline traits in their public life:

Amy Winehouse, Angelina Jolie, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Heather Mills, Christina Ricci, Britney Spears, Winona Ryder, Megan Fox, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love, Lindsey Lohan and Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Certainly I would not diagnose people whom I have never met; the purpose her is simply to highlighting that their public personas have elements that are clear representations of borderline characteristics. They may well be the result of a different underlying cause. Diagnosis is a complex and in-depth processes.

Borderline Characteristics in Film and Television

In line with the outdated clichés, the earlier films show the destructive potential of these personality traits in their full cinematic glory. After “Girl, Interrupted”, a more realistic and mixed narrative started showing the characters as full rich and diverse people.

Fatal Attraction (1987)

In “Fatal Attraction,” the infamous femme fatale character played by Glenn Close displays the emotional instability and fear of abandonment that are symptomatic of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her character also exhibits symptoms of self-harm, obsession, intense anger and manipulation as she stalks her former lover and his family.

Single White Female (1992)

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in “Single White Female” exhibits fear of abandonment, identity confusion, impulsivity and mirroring as she attempts to take over the life of Bridget Fonda’s character.

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

This autobiography in diary format tells the story of Susanna Kaysen’s experiences as a patient with Borderline Personality Disorder in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960’s. The film (1999), which stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, centres around Kaysen’s 18-month stay at a mental hospital as a young adult. Both stars struggle with features of this disorder themselves.

Monster (2003)

Charlize Theron transformed into the role of female serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Wuornos was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which may have contributed to the unstable and angry behaviours that led to her killing at least six men.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)

A comedy in which Uma Thurman portrays a woman with superpowers and a secret identity who also displays the BPD symptoms of impulsivity, unstable interpersonal relationships and poor self-image.

Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)

The central character of Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace played by Katee Sackhoff shows many Borderline traits, including unstable emotions, behaviours and relationships, self-destructive behaviours, boundary diffusion, identity confusion, impulsivity and intense attachments. Starbuck is a richly diverse and nuanced character which shows both the destructive and heroic sides of a Borderline Personality that typifies these engaging and powerful people.

Katee Sackhoff also plays another character, Sarah Corvus, with Borderline traits in the American TV series Bionic Woman (2007).

Dexter (2006 – 2013)

In the American TV series Dexter’s his adoptive sister Debra Morgan, played by Jennifer Carpenter, is a well-developed character that consistently and accurately portrays a comprehensive span of Borderline features; lack of boundaries, intense attachments, erratic relationships, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviours, balanced with great loyalty, drive and compassion. Conversely, one of Dexter’s girl-friends Lila Tournay, portrayed by Jaime Murray, equally fits the diagnosis only in a dramatically different with a focus on self-centred behaviours, lack of containment and destructiveness directed outward at others. Although, not exact opposites these two characters show the wide range of expressions possible within this diagnosis.

Brooklyn Nine Nine (2013)

This 2013 American offbeat police sitcom starts Andy Samberg as Officer Jake Peralta who is erratic, unboundaried, self-focused and self-destructive; but equally exciting and endearing.

Taxi Brooklyn (2014)

Chyler Leigh plays determined and passionate, but chaotic Detective Caitlyn Sullivan who has broken the rules so many times the Captain won’t even let her drive. She forms a close attachment with taxi driver Leo Romba played by Jacky Ido who provides her stability and perspective.

Murder in the First (2014)

Homicide detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan investigate two murders that outwardly appear to be unrelated. As the investigation proceeds, they find that both murders have a common element – that being Silicon Valley rising star Erich Blunt. The show examines the crime through the investigation, arrest and trial. Hildy is played by Kathleen Robertson to show a dedicated mother and detective contained by her work role, but with a strong underlying self-destructive drive. Her loyalty, authenticity, and passion are evident through story times where her struggle with boundaries can be admired even whilst getting her into trouble. Again the show provides the chaotic character with a stabiliser and sensible perspective in her partner played by Taye Diggs, an example of a Dependent Personality Disorder. Their antagonist is an Antisocial character being investigated for murder, played by Tom Felton.

Although all played a little close to cliché, this story does provide an excellent illustration of a Borderline/Dependent/Antisocial triangle at a sub-clinical intensity. All the characters demonstrate a limited range of life strategies definitive of a Personality Disorder, but all are functional and contributing members of society.

Don’t let your worst review define you

When it comes to reviews, the risk and reward can range from incredibly uplifting and validating to brutally crushing. A negative review leaves you unable to think of anything other than how someone perceived you, or devalued your many hours of work.

Whether you’re an actor, musician, dancer, comedian, writer or artist – reviews are part of life. But sometimes a bad review can just be the straw that breaks your back after struggling for years.

Here are some coping mechanisms to help you manage the emotional turmoil as well as to build resilience and the capacity to deal with reviews:

  1. Reflect on what you are going to read and what you’re going to pass on 

Many of the most successful professionals simply don’t read anything about themselves. Many have gone through a process of finding their focus and internal validation. They have a career path lined up and the reviews are an extra to the work they want to do.

  1. Decide why you’re reading a review, and what you’re going to do about it either way

If you do read reviews, or Twitter messages, or newspapers, decide what you’re reading it for. Will you do something differently if it’s positive? Will you do something differently of its negative?

Knowing your plan A and plan B helps to manage your emotions in the moment.

  1. Have company

If you know you’re particularly sensitive to criticism, read them together with others, and if you’re expecting a lot of external feedback on a show’s opening or a book launch, plan an outing that night.

Whether you’ll be celebrating or dealing with disappointment – you won’t be alone.

If you’re in a social group which is prone to avoidance and risky behaviour, such as excessive drinking, drug taking or promiscuity – avoid temptation and make healthier plans.

  1. Don’t give up. 

Every professional performer, writer and artist has at some point received negative feedback.

It is how we grow, reflect, and improve. Reviews of your creative expressions are a particularly brutal form of personal criticism, but with digital media it’s unlikely to improve so to succeed you must build resilience through internal validation.

Many artists and performers might even avoid new projects due to fear of having to deal with crushing reviews.

If reviews distress or even block your creative flow, we can help you conquer your fears and doubts.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with anyone who could also benefit from it.

Key Tips for Surviving Auditions

Auditions are a big deal! Treat them as such, but don’t let them define you.

Now that’s a difficult balance to get, especially when it’s been a while since your last audition.

Auditions are a few intense moments to prove yourself, often to strangers that don’t know you. Those few moments could be life changing, getting a role that could make your reputation. It all comes down to what you do in those indescribably fast and fleeting minutes. They are the very definition of a high anxiety provoking situation- very high value with very low margins for error.

If that’s not bad enough, expressing your Self and presenting your abilities for all to see can be incredibly exposing, leaving you feeling fragile and vulnerable. So auditions can be both intense and personal. A really daunting combination.

So how to not only survive, but thrive in this knife’s edge space?

  1. Be Prepared

Think of what you can do to prepare, know the situation, casting director, etc. Get as good an idea as you can of what will be expected of you at the audition and in the role. Performing is a job, one that is personal, revealing, emotional, taxing, unpredictable, but it’s is still a job. So auditions are job interviews, in part, so be ready.

Anxiety is the belief that your abilities are not a match for the demands of the situation. Preparation can increase your belief in yourself through being clearer about the situation and, therefore, able to make a realistic judgement of your fit. If you are sure that you are a match for the role, you can go in with greater confidence. If you assess that it’s going to be a stretch and you are unlikely to get the role; you can strategically withdraw or take a shot with realistic expectations. Either way you are more in control or the situation and of your career.

CG Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

  1. Manage your Anxiety

Ok, now that we’ve done the clever cognitive stuff, performing is not an intellectual pursuit. Getting our heads in gear is important, but an audition is not a job interview. To be brilliant in that moment you need to be present and focused, creative and powerful, unambiguous and memorable. Thinking is for the preparation so that you can focus yourself emotionally and creatively when on stage.

Anxiety naturally draws you into your head, but not in a sophisticated and useful way. Anxiety tells us something is important getting us physiologically prepared for action. So the body is in a higher state of arousal and the brain is taking in great stimulus and processing it quickly. All good to a point; your excited and ready. As the level of anxiety increases the body becomes less refined in it’s movements, not good for fine motor skills or hand eye co-ordination, and the brain becomes increasingly focused on danger preparation. So our creative powerhouse starts to run simple well-engrained scripts like jump out the way of that car, look out for snakes as well as everyone is against me, I’m not good enough, I’m not ready for this, etc.

Be honest with yourself! If you struggle with anxiety and self-doubt, this is part of being a human being doing something that is important to them.  That’s not the problem! The problem is not dealing with these powerful feelings. Find ways to calm and reassure yourself so you can be your best for those crucial moments. There are plenty of anxiety management resources online, but follow the key principles of personalise, practise, potent and passion. Generic tools that you haven’t honed won’t help when the intensity starts to spiral; meet fire with fire.

CG Jung: “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.”

  1. Respect the Experience

Success or failure is secondary to this being an experience in your life; no matter what happens you lived it, you grew as a person and you can learn something. We have a tendency not to process our experiences, but if you want to survive and thrive through the crucible of auditions they need to be a learning experience above an examination. Others’ are sitting in judgement of you, but you are using them as a resource to learn to be better at auditions, as a performer and as a person. This might sound dramatic and philosophical, but auditions are somehow outside of your life – they are an integral part of your chosen lifestyle. Therefore, as much as they are for work they are also the material that make up the days of your life, your resources for growth.

So no matter the outcome, commit to reflect on the learning about the audition process, on your performance and skills as well as reflect on how this affected you, good or bad. This builds your sense of being in control of the process. Also you cannot fail if your primary goal is to learn and improve and that is what you do consistently.

CG Jung: “Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

  1. Win the War

As the saying goes be less focused on the short term of winning a particular battle, this particular audition, it’s the war you need to win, building a successful career. So treat an audition, even a really really important one, as a part of the process. Don’t shy away from the experience; tell friends and family that you are going for it and how it goes. There is no shame in doing your job, which is going to auditions and winning some while losing others. The shame and embarrassment comes when you have something to hide from yourself and from others. You are allowed to hope and be disappointed, just as much as you are allowed to celebrate. You are a performer with all the ups and the downs that goes with life on the stage/screen/etc.

So be open and plan to go out with friends to tell them how it went. Or have a long walk along the Thames, or play with a puppy in the park. You need to actively process the experience as a learning and as a normal part of the life of a performer. Stay away from self-destructive habits or those gateway activities that always seem to lead you in a dark direction when disappointed. Seek the support you need or be alone or do something you enjoy or read a prepared uplifting script. Whatever, helps you integrate the experience into your life path in a meaningful way and to manage the emotional turbulence. The key is to decide before hand the post audition activity, no matter the result rather than respond to extreme emotions.

CG Jung: “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

In Summary

  • Prepare for the audition and have a plan for processing the result.
  • Expect anxiety and train yourself to manage the effects of increased arousal levels.
  • Treat the audition as an ongoing part of your career progression.
  • You need to find the way that works best for you.