Self-Harm - Do You Have a Problem?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

You cut yourself once out of curiosity. Or you don’t cut yourself, you just rub your skin until it bleeds. Do or don’t these examples mean you have a self harming problem?

What is self harm?

It’s pretty much just what it sounds like - hurting your body or bodily tissues on purpose. If you intentionally set out to cause yourself pain, you are in the realm of self-harming.

The most common ways of self-harming

The forms of self-harm that are most common are:

  • cutting or carving your skin
  • rubbing your skin to cause a friction injury
  • burning yourself in any way (fire, hot water, heat, chemicals)
  • hitting yourself
  • doing things to bruise your skin.

Not sure you do or don't have a problem?

There are a few excuses we can use that hide self-harm. Let's look at some of them.

'I was only playing around.'

Was it just a 'joke' that you hurt yourself? If you only hurt yourself as you were very drunk and it was a dare, it might not have been self-harm but just showing off. It depends on the next point.

'It was a one-off.'

Be honest here. Do you keep doing it 'just once' but then another 'just once' happens, and another? You might actually be self-harming. If it really was just a curious experiment, then maybe not.

'Nobody knows about it so it didn't happen'.

If you are hurting yourself secretly and then trying to tell yourself it's no big deal? It is a big deal. And you need to take it seriously.

'But I didn't hurt myself, someone else did it.'

If someone hurt you without your permission, that is an accident. But if you asked them to hurt you or allowed them to do so, willingly, it's self-harm.

'It was an accident'.

You happened to have your hand out when boiling water fell. That is an accident. But did you arrange for the water to fall? Or stick your and out? If you in any ways, shape or form arranged or chose the accident, it's defintely self-harm.

Why am I tempted to self-harm in the first place?

Self-harming generally happens because we feel so much pain inside we simply don’t know what to do.

Harming ourselves on the outside is a way to distract ourselves from the emotional pain that can feel completely overwhelming. So we are actually trying to cope. It's just that the method we are using isn't a good one.

There has also been a rise in self-harming connected to social media, which can make it look like something interesting to do. If we are really lonely and feel like we don’t fit in anywhere, an online community can make us feel part of something, even if it pushes us to hurt ourselves. But it is false connection, and you are being manipulated by someone else hiding behind a screen.

Other things that are actually self-harm, too

Still telling yourself you aren’t a self-harmer because you don’t fit into the main categories above? There are other ways to self-harm, too.

See if these sounds familiar:

  • smashing body parts against things (head or fist against wall, etc)
  • pulling out your hair on purpose (people with trichotillimania do it automatically, which is different)
  • skin picking or tweezing in order to cause pain
  • making someone else hurt your body
  • poisoning yourself
  • having dangerous sex you don’t want that hurts you externally or internally
  • depriving yourself of things so you suffer (not drinking water, not wearing a coat in winter)

Why should I stop self-harming?

The reason self harming feels so good is that the pain of our body blocks out the emotional pain we suffer.

But it’s not worth it. It’s over far too fast, in some cases in a few seconds. And the damage can cause long-term issues.

It’s like putting a bandaid on an infected wound. You have to deal with the infection, or things won’t ever change.

And these days there are so many ways to deal with emotional pain that do work, why do something that only causes more problems than it fixes?

So how do I stop self-harming?

You have to get help to deal with the emotional pain and upset that is driving you to hurt yourself in the first place. Yes, you might find it helpful to start with some journalling, mindfulness meditation, and/or reading some self-help books.

But self-harming is serious and you also need to reach out for proper support. Talk to a friend or family member you trust. If you have nobody to talk to, see if there is a school counsellor you feel comfortable with, or a support group you can join, or call a free helpline.

If you are aged 18 or over you can also book therapy without your parent's permission. Otherwise, if there is even a small chance they might help you, ask them for their help to find counselling.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis or in danger right now, call the emergency services for immediate help.

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