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Depression Mental Health Self-Care Self-Help

What Actually is Self-Harm? A Simple Guide

OK. So you’ve heard of self-harm and maybe you know people who do it. But do you actually know what it is and why people self-harm?

Why do some people feel an urge to inflict pain on themselves?

I can remember as a youth worker running mental health workshops in schools about self-harm and people asking: “why would someone want to hurt themselves if they are already feeling low?”  

Why do people self-harm?

Self-harming is, sadly, very common and these days in my work as a counsellor I see many clients who describe their self-harm as a way of trying to cope and feel more in control when they get overwhelmed with emotion. Some want to escape their memories, some want to express what is so hard to put into words and move their emotional pain to physical pain, others want to punish themselves for feeling so low. Many have a combination of reasons and others don’t really know why they self-harm but know it helps them cope in some way.

What are common triggers?

  • Anxiety
  • Bullying
  • Death of a loved one
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship break-up

However, there doesn’t have to be a specific reason why someone might self-harm.

Is self-harm always cutting?

Often people think of self-harm as cutting. However, there are a load of other ways that people cause harm and injury to themselves including overeating or undereating, excessive exercise, having unsafe sex, binge drinking and taking drugs. Anything that is harmful to your body that you do to control your emotions can be self-harm. 

Does it help?

After self-harming many people describe feeling a release of their emotions. However, this feeling is very short-term and doesn’t last long. Self-harm can feel like a quick fix but can be very risky and can be difficult to stop doing. Also, when these temporary feelings of release go away, the situation or feelings that triggered the self-harm often remain.

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Is it attention seeking?

It’s a myth that self-harm is attention seeking as it’s often done in secret and many people can feel shame about speaking up. However, for some people a part of them does want someone to find out as they might be finding it hard to put into words how bad everything in their life is feeling.

Do people who self-harm want to die?

Often, people who self-harm are not feeling suicidal, and their self-harm instead helps them stay alive and feel more alive as they connect with their emotions and stop feeling so numb. There are also many people who self-harm who do feel suicidal, and their self-harm helps them cope with these scary thoughts about ending their life. However, ways that people self-harm can be very risky, and people can put themselves in a lot of danger of killing themselves even if that was not what they were intending.

Where can I get help?

If you’re self-harming lots of support is out there. Try:

Self-Harm UK www.selfharm.co.uk
Calm Harm (free app): www.calmharm.co.uk
Samaritans: www.samaritans.org

Want more from Chloe? You can find all of Chloe’s support here.

Image of the author, Chloe Foster

Chloe Foster has a background in working in mental health and youth work. Today she runs Sussex Rainbow Counselling where she specialises in counselling LGBTQ clients online.

Chloe holds a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapeutic humanistic counselling from The University of Brighton. She is also an approved accredited registrant member of the National Counselling Society, and an accredited gender, sexuality and relationship diversities therapist with Pink Therapy.
Website: www.sussexrainbowcounselling.com

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