What Is Digital Self-Harm?
Self-harm can consist of many different techniques ranging from physical abuse to psychological abuse. Commonly it’s associated with physical pain such as cutting or burning of the skin, but that’s not the only type of self-harm. Digital self-harm is a new form of psychological abuse that is mainly seen in adolescents and is more popular with boys. While the abuse is primarily focused on emotional harm rather than physical harm, the mistreatment is thought to stem from a similar frame of mind.
Digital self-harm is a form of self-aggression that involves anonymously posting hurtful and sometimes verbally abusive remarks about one’s self online. Some of the online platforms used include forums as well as social media websites. By creating entirely separate personas online, teenagers are able to then post on their self-identified account different types of hate-filled comments targeted at themselves from themselves.
Psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler, interviewed by NPR, explained that one girl described cyberbullying herself as a way to “beat them to the punch” when referring to other classmates who may have teased her.
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens bully themselves as a way to regulate feelings of hatred and sadness in addition to gaining attention from friends and possibly family. Approximately six percent of students have anonymously posted a mean comment about themselves. Digital self-harm is predominantly done by males. A common misperception found among adults shows that many perceive girls to be more likely to engage in this type of behavior than boys. While girls do participate in this form of aggression, it is less likely to occur. Some of the suspected factors include sexual orientation, substance abuse, depression and other forms of bullying.
People who self-harm without the intention of suicide tend to be depressed and may have difficulty regulating their emotions. As a result, there is a likelihood for poor coping mechanisms. Problems with self esteem, the ability to tolerate pain and dissociation are all possible causes for self-harm.
The BBC interviewed an anonymous teen in 2013 who described the self bullying. “The posts would say I was ugly, I was useless, I wasn’t loved… all the stuff in my head.” The explanation concluded that if the words appeared as if they were written from someone else, then the reality inside could match the reality outside. The sense of absoluteness seemed calming.
Another case of digital self-harm involved a teenager by the name of Hannah Smith. The 14-year-old was described by many as being clever, bubbly and smart. In spite of this, she was found hanged in her bedroom. Her family suspected she was the victim of cyberbullying, but did not understand she was the one behind it. After an investigation into her online account activity found that the hateful messages posted about her were made by Hannah herself.