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Stuggling with self harm

People Who Self Harm

Self harm is the term used to describe when someone deliberately hurts themselves as a way of dealing with their emotions. They may do this in a number of ways, including:

  • cutting or scratching themselves
  • burning themselves with a flame or something hot
  • causing bruising to the body by hitting themselves
  • throwing their body against something that will hurt
  • taking overdoses of tablets or medication
  • inserting objects into the body
  • hair pulling (also known as trichotilliomania)

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Why do people self harm?

Self harm is a coping strategy that helps people to manage their emotional hurt or stress. It is important to remember that it is not attempted suicide, but it is something that people do in order to survive. Often people self harm to try and feel as if they have more control over their emotions, or to get immediate relief from high levels of distress. Sometimes people harm themselves because of self hate, or because they want to punish themselves.

Who self harms

There is no straight forward answer to this. The truth is - anyone is at risk from self harming at some point in his or her life depending on the experiences they have and the way they feel about these experiences. People self harm for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, and what can cause one person to harm themselves, may not create the same level of distress in another person.

Popular culture would have you believe that young girls predominantly self harm but the research suggests otherwise. Findings suggest that in fact for the age range of mid 30s, men represent the majority of people attending Accident and Emergency for the treatment of self harm.

What causes people to self harm?

There are many things that can cause distress is someone that can in turn lead them to harm themselves. Such issues that may trigger the onset or a period of self harm might be bullying, trauma, abuse, school or work pressures, bereavement and difficult relationships but no experience can be disregarded. There doesn't always need to be a triggering event in someone's life that makes them turn to self harm, sometimes individuals just experience a period of decreased self esteem or increased distress that leads them to harm themselves.

Self harm is NOT

  • attention seeking or manipulative; self harm is neither of these things
  • a mental illness; it is a symtom of internal stress or distress
  • just a young person's problem
  • a suicide attempt, but is about staying alive
  • the problem but would suggest that the person is struggling with something else, it is a symptom of emotional distress
  • a problem that cannot be solved, people can learn to manage their emotions in a different way
  • for the pain, but for the respite people gain from their emotional pain or stress
  • a behaviour that is risky to others
Coping with self harm

The severity of self harm is not directly related to the level of distress that the individual is feeling. The fact that someone has harmed themselves is what is significant, not what they did or how severe their harm was.

The language that we use…

It is advisable not to describe the person who self harms as a 'self harmer', as this defines the individual only in terms of their self harm, and leaves little room for other areas of their personality to be described or explored.