Self-harm is sometimes known as self-injury and describes a wide range of things people do to themselves to harm their body. Often people who self-harm do not want to die, however many experience suicidal thoughts at times.
Other harmful actions like smoking, excessive drinking, driving dangerously, using substances like glue or taking drugs are not usually seen as self-harm in this sense. Eating disorders may be thought by some to be a form of self-harm but are not the focus of this section.
For some, self-harm can continue over many months or years without becoming dangerous, but sometimes it can result in death or permanent injury even if the person themselves does not necessarily intend this. Self-harm needs to be taken seriously, but it is important to respond to it in a calm and helpful way.
Although people don’t always talk about self-harm it is relatively common. Self-harm can be experienced by anyone, though some people are more at risk, for example people who have experienced childhood trauma or are experiencing emotional overwhelm.
Why do people self-harm?
The underlying reasons why someone might self-harm are often complex. People may find it difficult to explain why they self-harm, and those around them often find it hard to understand. The reasons people self-harm vary widely from person to person and sometimes from one time to the next.
Sometimes self-harm is used as a way of coping with difficult feelings or experiences. This may include anxiety, depression, bullying, being abused or family breakdown but can involve many other problems that people face in their everyday lives. Other reasons commonly described include:
- to relieve tension, pressure or anger
- to feel something – to know you still exist
- to feel in control
- to get a buzz
- to express, escape or stop bad feelings
- to punish yourself because you feel you deserve it
- to let people know how bad things are
- to communicate to others
How other people react to self-harm
Knowing someone is self-harming can be very distressing and difficult to understand. Sometimes people who self-harm are accused of attention seeking or considered a threat to others. This is not usually the case but can lead to unhelpful attitudes and responses from other people. Above all, people who self-harm need understanding and support, and their families and friends may need support too.
Knowing someone is self-harming and not being able to stop them can be very distressing. If it is someone close to you, you may feel angry, confused, frightened, worried and helpless. Sometimes this may cause you to react in unhelpful ways which is why it may be useful to seek support for yourself.