What is self-harm? 

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. Some people have described self-harm as a way to: 

  • express something that is hard to put into words 
  • turn invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible 
  • change emotional pain into physical pain 
  • reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts 
  • have a sense of being in control 
  • escape traumatic memories 
  • have something in life that they can rely on 
  • punish themselves for their feelings and experiences 
  • stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated (see dissociation and dissociative disorders
  • create a reason to physically care for themselves 
  • express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life. 

After self-harming you may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse. 

Even though there are always reasons underneath someone hurting themselves, it is important to know that self-harm does carry risks. Once you have started to depend on self-harm, it can take a long time to stop. 

How do people self-harm? 

There are lots of different forms of self-harming. Some people use the same one all the time, other people hurt themselves in different ways at different times. 

Warning: it can be upsetting and potentially triggering to read information about how to self-harm. If you are feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might not want to read the information below. 

Ways people self-harm can include: 

  • cutting yourself 
  • poisoning yourself 
  • over-eating or under-eating 
  • exercising excessively 
  • biting yourself 
  • picking or scratching at your skin 
  • burning your skin 
  • inserting objects into your body 
  • hitting yourself or walls 
  • misusing alcohol, prescription and recreational drugs 
  • pulling your hair 
  • having unsafe sex 
  • getting into fights where you know you will get hurt. 

If you self-harm, it is important that you know how to look after your injuries and that you have access to the first aid equipment you need. 

If you’re concerned about an injury or not sure how to look after it, see your doctor

“I think one of my biggest barriers to getting help was actually not admitting to myself that I had a problem. I used to tell myself, ‘I’m only scratching, it’s not real self-harm.'”

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