Self-harm: Polly's story

Polly tells us how she started to self-harm after losing her dad and being abused by her step-uncle. She hopes that her experience will encourage others to tell someone. 
Trigger warning: This page contains information about self-harm which may bring up difficult feelings.

"instead of looking after me, he sexually abused me"

"Things started to change after my dad died when I was 6. I was devastated, I wouldn't talk to anyone and I hardly ate or slept. I started to self-harm by banging my head against the wall, it was easier to deal with the physical pain than feel the emotional pain.

"My younger brother and I were sent to stay with our step-uncle in North Wales so that he could look after us while my mum was sorting out the funeral arrangements. But instead of looking after me, he sexually abused me.

I continued to bang my head against walls to try to block out what was happening

"A few months later we moved to North Wales and my mum started dating him then got married. But the abuse didn't stop. I was only young and I didn't know it was wrong but I knew that I didn't like it.

"I continued to bang my head against walls to try to block out what was happening, when I was about eight I started to hit myself with a hammer, leaving bruises. I'd also pinch, bite and I burn myself.

"By the time I was 13 I was being abused every single night. My step-dad started to get more violent, he would threaten me with knives and say 'If you tell anyone I'll kill your brother'.

I started fainting at school because of the tablets and after one occasion I told the school nurse everything. She believed me and called a social worker.

"I'd noticed that my mum's medication helped her feel more relaxed so I started stealing her tablets and taking them so that they would blur out what was happening. I wanted to take the lot. I started fainting at school because of the tablets and after one occasion I told the school nurse everything. She believed me and called a social worker.

"But my step-dad was used to charming people to get his own way and the social worker believed that he didn't do it so didn't pursue the matter. That night the sexual abuse was more violent than ever.

"Looking back, I can see things were different then and that's not how social workers would deal with a report of abuse now.

"I was still hitting myself with a hammer but I started to hit myself even harder and broke my wrist a few times. It was really painful but to me it was a good pain. I wanted someone to notice and say 'Is something going on at home?' Instead I would just get patched up and sent away.

"I also began cutting myself to try and cope with the abuse - I began to cut deeper and deeper. I would also drink to excess and I took a lot of drugs. I began making myself sick after meals too.

If it wasn’t for Childline I wouldn’t be around today, they gave me the strength to carry on.

"I began calling Childline regularly. I'd always battled with whether the sexual abuse was my fault - I'd ask 'Is this my fault? Did I do something wrong?' the counsellor said it wasn't. It was such a relief being able to speak to someone who believed me and didn't judge me.

"I didn't talk to them about self-harming at first, I thought I was the only one that did it and that they wouldn't understand. But as I felt able to open up and talk to them about it, and they told me that other young people self-harmed, then I didn't feel so alone. I asked the Childline counsellor 'Am I an attention seeker?' because I'd been told that a lot but she reassured me that I wasn't just trying to get attention.

"People say that attention seeking is a bad thing but in a way I was crying out for someone to notice what was happening. I think there's always a trigger for self-harm, you don't do it without a reason.

"If it wasn't for Childline I wouldn't be around today, they gave me the strength to carry on. They listened to me, believed me and they gave me the confidence to tell someone who got me away from the abuse. If you are self-harming I would urge you to talk to Childline."

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