What is self harm?

Self-harm is when people hurt themselves as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences that feel out of control because they are linked to specific experiences or is a way of dealing with something that is currently happening or has happened in the past. The person who self-harms is usually in a state of high emotion, distress and unbearable inner turmoil. 
Self-harm is something that anyone can do - there is no one typical person who hurts themselves. Self-harm predominantly occurs in young people with around 65% of self-harm occurring before about the age of 35 years. It usually occurs for the first time during adolescence. 
Self-harm may be planned in advance or done on the spur of the moment. Some people may self-harm only once or twice, but others do it more regularly and it can be hard to stop. After self-harm people may feel better and more able to cope for a while but it is unlikely that the cause of the distress has actually gone away. 
Self-harm is not the same as attempted suicide but people who self-harm are at a greater risk of killing themselves than those who do not self-harm. People who self-harm should be taken seriously. 
People may 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 feelings and experiences
  • Stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated
  • Create a reason to physically care for themselves
  • Express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life

Signs of self-harm
  • Cutting
  • Poisoning
  • Over-eating
  • Under-eating
  • Biting oneself
  • Picking or scratching one's own skin
  • Burning oneself
  • Inserting objects into one's own body
  • Hitting oneself or walls
  • Overdose
  • Exercising excessively
  • Pulling one's hair
  • Getting into fights knowing where you will get hurt


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