About Self-Harm – Part 6 – Alternatives

Welcome to part 6 of our series about self-harm.  In last week’s post, we looked at control.  Today, we’re going to look at alternatives to self-harming.  Perhaps you can use these for friends or family members going through self-harming.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

What alternatives are there?

Many alternatives exist for self-harming.  Whether these will work or not depends on the person, as some work better for others and some don’t work at all.  Here are some of the techniques though.

  • Rub an ice cube on your skin instead of cutting it.  I’ve not yet tried this one, though the mental health nurse I see recommended gripping ice.  It produces the burn feeling that can inflict the pain without the damage.
  • Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it gently against your skin.  This one seems more for anxiety than depression but it has been known to work.
  • Draw on the skin with a soft-tipped red pen in the place you might usually cut.  The idea is it gives you the visual of the red lines on your skin, almost as if you had cut it.
  • Go for a walk or run, ride a bike, dance like crazy or get some exercise. Exercise stimulates the brain to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural antidepressants.  Doctors recommend exercise as a natural treatment for depression.
  • Rip up some paper. Tearing something other than your skin could prove effective.
  • Write out your hurt, anger or pain using a pen and paper.  Getting your thoughts out of your head can be extremely beneficial.  It’s another form of releasing them and does less damage than cutting.
  • Scribble on paper using a red pen.  It combines the last two techniques.
  • Skip the cutting and go straight to bandaging.  It might trick your brain into thinking you’ve cut and removing the bandage should buy you enough time to delay the thought and shake it off.
No “one size fits all”  

These are a few of the techniques you could try as alternatives to self-harming. They might work for you or the person you’re trying to support but please bear in mind that they might not.  There is, unfortunately, no “one size fits all” approach.  With people being so unique, mental health conditions are also so diverse.  No singular treatment will work.

For me, I’ve tried the elastic band for my anxiety and it’s helped somewhat.  As for the others, writing is usually quite effective for me (as you might have gathered by my blogging about it).  It gets the thoughts out of my head for a while, which helps lessen the desire to self-harm.

They are only alternatives

I should stress at this point that these are only alternatives to self-harming, they are not cures.  They are a variety of techniques that may or may not have an effect.  Speaking from my own experience, there are days when I can use all the alternatives I like but they simply don’t give me that same experience that the actual self-harm does.  Sometimes it’s almost necessary for me to self-harm, as nothing else seems to work.  So please be aware when encouraging someone to switch to an alternative that it may not work all the time, even if it’s successful on occasion.

Next Week

Next week brings this series to a close, so please come back to hear my final thoughts on self-harming.  Also check out my journey, if you haven’t already!

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About Self-Harm – Part 5 – Control

Welcome to part 5 of our series about self-harm.  If you missed it, check out last week’s post where we looked at how to help people who self-harm.  In today’s post, we’re looking at the element of control, both good and bad, that exists for self-harmers.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

ControlIt's hard to hide your story when it's written all over your body...

If you ask them, a lot of people you talk to will say that they can’t control their self-harming.  It’s something they feel driven to do, something they don’t feel they can stop. In that sense, it’s like their self-harming is an addiction that forces them to do it.  That’s what most people might think of when they put the words “self-harm” and “control” into the same sentence.  There is, however, another aspect of it that people aren’t so familiar with.

Thinking about my journey, I’ve felt that control, that urge. There have been those times when the desire to hurt myself has felt like a strong push to get me to do it.  As you’d expect, there are times when I’ve given into it.  There have also been times when I’ve fought it.  Sometimes I’ve succeeded, other times I’ve failed, as with anything, I guess.

 “Just throw the blades away…”

A lot of people who have supported me since this all started have told me to throw the blades away.  It seems to be one of the go-to phrases for people supporting those who self-harm.  I’ll be honest, I’ve used that phrase too before I went through the experience myself.  Still, is it as good an idea as it seems?

So, in principal the idea seems great: remove the blades, therefore remove the temptation, therefore lessen the self-harming itself. Logical, right?  It seems like the perfect way of imposing some form of control over the self-harm. After all, introduce a restriction and that automatically provides some form of control.  Right?

Not quite.

The other side of the coin is the control that we, as self-harmers, can bring about.  For me, knowing that I have a blade in the flat brings in a different sense of control.  That knowledge allows me to direct those spirals and try different coping mechanisms such as computer games, music or TV before I end up turning to the blade.  Knowing I don’t have a blade there makes me more erratic and the knock-on effect is that I struggle more with using those other coping mechanisms and distraction techniques.

In short: no blade means my spirals are worse because my 100% successful safety net isn’t there.  I know, it’s bizarre.

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The “no blade” solution

What do you do when you’re spiralling, feeling the urge to self-harm, and you have no blades in the house? Thankfully I’ve never experienced this particular stage, this is from someone I know.

They self-harm the same way I do and their spouse had taken it upon themselves to remove all the blades and sharp objects from the house.  As I said before, it really sounds like a good idea.  Unfortunately it had the opposite effect.  Knowing there were no blades in the house, this person was feeling the desire to self-harm and simply couldn’t control it, smashing a glass and using the shards of glass instead.

There was no blade.  No safety net.  As ironic as referring to a sharp object as a safety net is, it wasn’t there.  This is sadly what happens if we were to remove all the blades.  The urge, the “addiction” or whatever that person may be feeling (as not everyone would class it as an addiction) would become overwhelming to the point of disaster.

The lesser of two evils

As much as I don’t like looking at it this way, I feel that this is going to be the best way to look at it.  Let’s say for a moment that you have no control over whether or not your partner, friend or family member self-harms (which is true because if they want to do it then they will find a way regardless). Let’s also assume they cut, as that’s the easiest one to explain with.

Tell me: which one would you prefer?  The razor blade that is more or less surgical, sharp and straight…or a shard of glass that’s jagged, could leave smaller shards in the wound and might do more damage?

You see, in some twisted sense of the word, allowing them to keep at least one blade gives them that control.  They can control how much damage they can do, they can control what coping mechanisms they go through before they get to the self-harming stage and they can attempt to control whether they do get to that stage.

It may not be the control you’re looking for…but it’s control.

Next Week

In next week’s post, we’ll be looking at some of the alternatives to self-harm and some of the things that you can try and encourage them to use instead of turning to self-harm.  They won’t work for everyone but who knows, it might be a useful alternative. In the meantime, check out my post about Pills and Blades or pop over to our Depression Support category for some encouragement!  See you next week!

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About Self-Harm – Part 4 – How To Help

Welcome to part 4 of our series about self-harm.  Last week I debunked the attention-seeking myth by explaining how people could do it for attention but the majority don’t.  Today we’re going to look at how you can help someone who self-harms.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

How to Help

I’m sure this is the question that is in your thoughts, especially if you know someone who self-harms.  How can you help them?  What can you do? Well, I have a few facts for you but also a few suggestions as to how you can truly help them. Stick with me, as I think you’ll be quite surprised with some of the things I suggest.

So what can we do?  Well there are a few simple things that anyone can do to support someone.  Here they are:

  • Be supportive: it goes without saying but if they know you are supportive of them, they will take far more comfort from that than if you berate them for doing it.
  • Try to be understanding: this links in directly with the last one; try and understand what they are going through and why they do it.  This is a good opportunity for you to put some of the things we talked about in our Talking Things Through series into play!
  • Don’t express extreme worry: this is a difficult one as they are hurting themselves and that is concerning but please try not to express worry.  If anything, it’ll make them feel worse for something that could be completely out of their control.  Again, a good opportunity for using things from out Talking Things Through post about sensitivity and mindfulness.

If you follow these steps, you’re well on your way to establishing yourself as someone they can turn to when they’re in trouble.  If my journey is anything to go by, establishing yourself in such a way is a good way of setting yourself up as an alternative to self-harming.  I’ve turned to one of my most understanding friends far more times than I can count when I’ve known I’m starting down that road again. More often than not, she’s helped me through it.

What do you need to know?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you need to bear in mind when dealing with someone who self-harms but there are a couple of things that Cheryl and I discussed that we thought would be useful for you to remember.  Here they are:

  • It’s not your fault: if you try and support them and stop them doing it and they do it anyway, don’t think you’ve failed.  If they want to do it, they will do it, regardless of how good you are at helping.  I’ve been there. I’ve had some of the best help ever and I’ve still gone and done it anyway. It depends on where they’re at in their own journey at that point.
  • Be non-judgemental: expressing disappointment or having a go at them will be the quickest way to drive them straight back to the blade.  Being non-judgemental and calm is the best approach you can possibly take.
  • Remember: you’re not an expert: this is more for those of you with no experience of it.  Find out why they do it, find out what helps them avoid it and go from there.  Build that rapport so you can support them better.  If they feel like they’re being taken seriously, they will open up and trust you with it.

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What not to do

Regarding self-harm, aside from those couple of points I’ve mentioned about not having a go, not being judgemental, etc, there is only really one thing that I need to mention.  This is the one that might surprise you.

Do not remove all sharp objects from accessibility.

That’s right, don’t remove them.  

I can almost hear you asking why, so let me explain. Doubtless you’re doing it with the best will in the world.  After all, removing sharp objects can remove temptation, which should lessen the act.  Despite that thought, it’ll actually cause more harm than help.  By removing the sharp objects, not only are you removing their ability to self-harm, you are removing their control over it and possibly removing some of the safety aspect too.

Control

I shall explain control in more detail next week, as I feel it is too long to go into in this post, but suffice it to say that sometimes knowing that the blade or other instrument is there can greatly increase the control against not doing it.  As I said, though, more on that next week!

Removing Sharp Objects

Removing sharp objects doesn’t sound like it would go against safety aspects but let me give you an example.  Someone I know removed all the sharp objects from the house so her husband couldn’t self-harm.  Without any blades or anything to turn to, he went somewhat out of control and smashed a glass instead and used that.

Think about it, which is better: a surgical razor blade that makes a clean cut or a shard of glass that leaves a jagged cut with the potential for getting glass in the wound?

You may be trying to help and we all understand and appreciate that.  We really do. However, please do not remove the sharp objects from the house.  It can have disastrous and dangerous consequences. As difficult as it is, let them keep at least one blade around. If they use it, they use it.  If they’re determined enough to self-harm, they will find a way no matter what steps you put into place.

I hope this gives you some insight into what you can do to help them.

Next Week

As I mentioned earlier, next week we will be looking at control.  It may sound like an odd thing, thinking of self-harm as control, but all shall be made clear next week.  In the meantime, check out our Talking Things Through series if you haven’t already or go Inside My Head to see a little more about my journey.

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About Self-Harm – Part 3 – Attention

Welcome to part 3 of our series about self-harm.  Last week I talked about the different reasons why I self-harm and why others might be do it as well.  This week we’re going to debunk the common myth that it is all for attention.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

It’s For AttentionWe're not all attention-seeking. We cover our wrists, keep our thoughts to ourselves and let no one in.

This is the most common thing that self-harmers hear from other people.  According to the majority of others, attention is the only reason that we would self-harm.

Today, I’d like to tell you that that’s not true.

As mentioned above, if you check out last week’s post then you will see the reasons why I self-harm and attention does not come into it.  If anything, in the majority of cases, attention-seeking is near the bottom of the list of reasons.  Ask yourself: if we were doing it for attention, why would we cut where we can keep it hidden?  I cut my legs, a friend of mine does their stomach, someone else I know does their arms but wears long sleeves all the time.  Why would we be working so hard to keep it hidden if we were doing it for attention?  That, if anything, makes no sense.

So where does attention come in?

My answer is twofold.

Some do do it for attention

Yes, I couldn’t avoid this one.  There are people out there who would self-harm as a means of attention-seeking, though let me stress that these people would be in the minority.  At least, people who do it primarily for that reason.  As people grow and change, they might start enjoying or liking being in other people’s thoughts or receiving the care or fuss that other people give them, so they may transition to doing it for attention but that’s not always the case.

As I said: those who do it primarily to receive that fuss and care are in the minority. Some could transition but, again, they are also in the minority of cases.  For the vast majority of people who self-harm, they do it for the reasons I mentioned last week – coping mechanisms such as distraction, evidence, a way of feeling or self-loathing – or for their own reasons that I haven’t covered.

However, there is a flipside to that story.

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Others do do it for attention…but not that attention!

I know, that makes about as much sense as a chocolate teapot but bear with me, it’ll become clear in just a moment!

I'm not attention-seeking...I'm asking for help in the only way I know how.How many times have you heard that suicide is a cry for help?  Now, while I disagree with that statement, I’d like to turn it on its head and point out that suicide is not the cry for help, self-harm is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the case for everyone.  For me, it’s a coping mechanism, it’s definitely not a cry for help.  For others, however, it is the only way they know how to ask for help.  Instead of self-harming where no one can see, they will make it obvious so that someone will comment. Of course, this doesn’t always have the desired effect but more often than not, someone will comment on it and they can then start talking about their struggle and start getting the help that they need.

So yes, in this instance it is deliberately attention-seeking but not in a bad way.  Still, this particular reasoning could be in the minority as I don’t know many people who do it for this particular reason.  Most of the people I know try to hide it.

Next Week

We’ve covered some of the reasons why, we’ve covered the attention-seeking myth so what comes next in the series?  I think it’s time we looked at ways to help people who self-harm.  I’d challenge you to tune in for that one as I can guarantee that the things I suggest are not what you’d normally think of!  See you next week!

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About Self-Harm – Part 2 – A Way of Coping

Welcome to part 2 of our series about self-harm.  Last week we looked at the basics for self-harm, today we’re going to go deeper.  For me and for many others, it’s a coping mechanism, but why do people do it?  Today we’re going to look at different reasons behind why people self-harm.  More specifically, we’re going to look at the reasons that I have for self-harming.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

A Coping Mechanism

Self-harm is a coping mechanism for a lot of people. It’s a way of managing their condition, whether depression or anxiety, on a regular basis and, as horrible as it may be to hear, it’s one that is surprisingly effective.  Here are four reasons that I have for doing it, which I shall break down in just a moment:

  1. Self-Loathing
  2. Distraction Technique
  3. A Way of Feeling
  4. Physical Evidence

There you have it, my four reasons.  For some people these reasons will translate into their own story but others may feel only a couple of these or none of these at all, citing different reasons.  Let’s unpack them, shall we?

Self-Loathing

This one is possibly the easiest for people to get.  See, whenever I’m on a particularly bad day, I blame myself for not being able to do things that I believe I should be able to do. Whether it’s getting out the flat or making a simple phone call or coping with one of my darker days, all these things can weigh on my mind until I get frustrated and angry with myself.  It’s easily done.  Most of the time, I’m angry before I’ve even realised it.

To put that into perspective, let’s look at the phone calls. Nowadays, more often than not, I can’t make simple phone calls.  People like my parents and one or two friends will get phone calls but anything else, be it calling other friends or the local council or the estate agents or anything like that, is an impossible task for me.  I almost physically can’t make myself pick up the phone.

Why the frustration?

I used to work in a call centre!

Ridiculous, right?  Well no, there are medical reasons for why I can’t pick up the phone, every one of them stemming from my depression and my anxiety.  Still, you would think that someone who worked in a call centre for a bank could still pick up the phone and make phone calls.  After all, I did it for a living!

Now you see where self-loathing would come in. Combine frustrations and angers with poor self-worth (check out my posts on self-worth here and here if you haven’t already) and you have the perfect cocktail for me commencing my self-harming journey.

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A Distraction TechniqueYou have no idea how much pain runs through my veins.

This one is best explained with an example.  Imagine, for a moment, that you have a blinding migraine.  Your head just won’t stop throbbing. Nothing you’re doing is working, the headache just keeps persisting.

Suddenly you stub your toe on the door.  For that moment, no matter how brief, your headache is forgotten because you’ve hurt your toe.  The pain in your toe is a distraction factor.

That’s where self-harm comes in.

No, I don’t have persistent headaches.  What I do have a dark thoughts, negative thoughts and feelings that threaten to drag me under.  I feel as though I’m drowning on a daily basis.  Sometimes the only way to break the cycle, particularly on the bad days, is to use distraction techniques. Ideally these would be things like computer games or films but they tend to work better on the better days.  On the darkest days, self-harm is the only successful distraction technique.

But why does it work?

Simply put: inflicting pain is a way of distracting yourself because you have to focus on what you’re doing.  I’m focusing on hurting myself while not doing damage that could be fatal.  The sharpness of the pain also serves to focus me somewhat.  As bad as it may be, it works.

A Way of Feeling

When I’m caught in a depressive spiral, more often than not there is a complete void inside of me.  Think of it like a black hole, sucking the motivation, enjoyment, enthusiasm and happiness out of everything, leaving nothing but an empty shell behind.  In the majority of days, that is how I’m feeling: numb and empty.

Ask yourself: what is the quickest way of feeling something?  Before I turned to self-harm, I tried horror films, thrillers and comedies in an attempt to get some kind of feeling in me.  Unfortunately the vast majority of these didn’t work.  At least, not on the worst days.

So I turned to pain.

Pain is 100% tried and tested to get me to feel.  After all, it’s difficult to naturally block out pain, so it’s a reliable way of feeling.  It’s a physical sensation that reminds me that I can still feel, which makes it an effective way of breaking the depressive cycle, the same way the distraction technique works.

Again, not the best but it works.

Evidence

This one is the one that some people get immediately but others take a little time to process.  A desire for evidence is often the one battle that I face more than any other.  See, one of my biggest struggles with mental health is that it is exactly what it says on the tin: mental.  Unfortunately there are very few physical symptoms that you can notice yourself.  If your appetite changes because of depression, people will notice your weight fluctuate but, unless you’re super observant, you won’t notice it yourself.

So I go for evidence.

If I had a broken leg, I would be able to see it.  Cutting myself leaves scars, scars that act as a physical, evidential reminder that I’m ill.  It proves to me that it’s real, that it’s not all in my head (even though, realistically, that’s exactly where it is).  It’s a way of reminding myself that my struggle is there and that I’m fighting to get better.

It’s evidenced.

Next Week

There you have it, the four reasons why I self-harm.  As I mentioned last week, some people do it for attention and you’ll notice I’ve left that off this list.  That’s partly because I don’t do it for attention – not the negative kind, at any rate, as I know I’m drawing attention to it now – but it’s also because attention-seeking is the topic for next week’s post in the series.  Come back next week to see me debunk that myth in more detail.  In the meantime, any questions then just shout!

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About Self-Harm – Part 1 – The Basics

Welcome to part 1 of our series about self-harm.  In this series, I aim to crack open the topic of self-harm and bring a few details to light.  It’s a topic that no one ever talks about if they can help it, which we need to change.  I must make you aware that this series comes with a *trigger warning* as it unpacks that topic.  Let’s dive in.

Self-Harm: the Basics

Why do you have scars?What do you know about self-harm?  What do you perceive it to be?  More importantly, do you know why people would do it?  If you would like to leave a comment with your original thoughts about it, I’d appreciate that.  It’ll give me an idea of what page we’re on collectively.

Self-harm, as a whole, is a topic surrounded by a lot of stigma.  It potentially carries as much stigma as depression in its entirety.  There are loads of assumptions surrounding it but how many of them are true?  Let’s take a look.

The Myths

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the myths around it.

  • Self-harm is attention-seeking: not strictly true. Granted, there will be those who do it for attention but, for the most part, people do go to great lengths to hide it.
  • Self-harmers are suicidal: again, not always.  Self-harm is mostly used as a coping mechanism to ensure survival, like in my case.  There is a link between self-harm and suicide, as there are crossovers, but most of the time it’s used to get rid of feelings, not to end life itself.
  • It’s a teenage thing: it’s definitely not just a teenage thing.  I’m not a teenager, after all.  I know others who do it and they’re older.
  • They can stop if they want to: actually, it’s possible to become habitual or addictive for some people.
  • Self-harmers have been abused in the past: again, not always.  Yes, some have been but in my case I haven’t. There are different triggers for it.
  • Self-harm is cutting: there are many different forms, that I will cover in a moment.

See, there are many myths surrounding self-harm in general.  Now let’s take a look at some of the basics of it.

The Basics

There are a number of different ways that someone can self-harm.  The most widely known one is cutting, which seems to be one of the most popular ones as well, as far as I can tell. However, other methods can include burning, scratching, head banging, hair pulling or substance abuse that can lead to overdosing.  There isn’t just one form that people can turn to.

As an affliction, it is also far more complicated.  It’s not something like a disease that can be narrowed down to a definitive cause the same way you would with a cold or an infection.  It is its own entity and it is vast because there are many different reasons why people would do it.  Some people may use exactly the same form of self-harm but they may do it for two completely different reasons. Alternatively, they may have almost identical reasons but use two different methods.  It depends from person to person as much as depression varies from one person to the next.

In a nutshell, while we can identify methods and give it a definition of its own, we cannot give a single, unified reason as to why people self-harm. While some people do do it for attention, in the majority of cases it’s done for other reasons.  Every case is different and should be treated as such.

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Self-Harm and Me

If you’re new to the blog or haven’t explored much of the site, you might have a inkling of how I seem to know so much about self-harm.  For those of you who don’t already know, I have experience in this area. You can check out my journey and Pills and Blades to see my self-harming story in more detail but for the moment, let me give you a little overview.  These will be the cold, hard facts so please forgive any abruptness.

So, the method that I turned to was cutting.  Stereotypical, I know, but effective.  I use razor blades on my thighs for a couple of different reasons, reasons that I shall be going through in next week’s post. There are two important points that I need to point out though:

  1. I’m not telling you for attention.
  2. I cannot always control it.

I know, I’ve written a post concerning my self-harm and then posted it on a public blog but it’s not for attention.  Not in the attention-seeking way, at any rate.  If I self-harmed for attention, I wouldn’t cut my thighs, I can tell you that much.  I have posted it on here so that we can draw attention to the problem and help people tackle it better.  That is why you’re reading this right now.

As for the controlling it, there are days where I can resist it but there are also days where I cannot.  Medication is helping me manage those symptoms but that’s not always the case. Despite it being my hands that pick up the blade and make the cuts, it is not always something I’m in complete control over.

Next Week

I told you I was going to go into some of the reasons why people self-harm.  In next week’s post, I’m going to be telling you more about those reasons – but not the attention-seeking, as that’s coming in part 3! Tune back in next week to read about those reasons.  In the meantime, if you have questions then please do message me.  I’m an open book.

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