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
- Biting oneself
- Picking or scratching one's own skin
- Burning oneself
- Inserting objects into one's own body
- Hitting oneself or walls
- Exercising excessively
- Pulling one's hair
- Getting into fights knowing where you will get hurt