What Is Self Harm?

If you are close to people who choose to cut or burn themselves, it can be really tough to cope with, and hard to understand.

The reasons people harm themselves are complicated. Self-harming usually does not mean that a person wants to commit suicide or that they are looking for attention. Usually when people harm themselves, they are suffering a great deal inside.

What is self-harming?

Self-harming is when people cause themselves physical pain that alters their mood state (how they feel inside). Some people harm themselves because they feel disconnected and isolated from everybody, and hurting themselves is the only way they feel real or connected.

Self-harming behaviours can include:

  • cutting their skin with knives or any sharp object
  • burning their skin
  • hitting their body with an object or fists (like punching the wall)
  • deliberately falling when doing something like extreme sports
  • picking at their skin
  • swallowing pills or sharp objects
  • pulling at their hair (hair pulling can also be a habit).

Eating disorders, alcohol and drug addiction are other ways that people harm themselves physically and mentally.

Why do people start harming themselves?

Self-harming can be a way that people deal with feelings of:

  • helplessness, despair and low self-esteem
  • anger, loneliness, shame and guilt
  • not having control over their life
  • being ‘out of it’ – so the only way to feel ‘real’ is to cause physical pain to themselves.

Some self-harm is related to severe emotional pain. When people have experienced abuse or violence, it often re-appears as emotional pain in later life. Some people have said that:

  • When they hurt themselves physically, it helps take away the emotional pain.
  • Self-harm makes internal pain visible on the surface. It is showing that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Self-harm is a way that people punish themselves for something.

People who harm themselves…

  • may have difficulty expressing their feelings verbally
  • may dislike themselves and their bodies
  • may do it because of difficulties with relationships
  • may do it because of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or stress.

It is important to understand that whatever the reason for self-harming behaviour, there are more positive ways of dealing with the troubling feelings.

Why do people keep harming themselves?

Some people say that self-harming is an addictive behaviour.

  • Behaviours, when they become addictive, can be just as hard to give up as an addictive drug.
  • When people get into a cycle of self-harming behaviour, it can become their main way of dealing with problems, and can start to have very negative impacts on their lives.

Source: Child and Youth Health

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