Self Harm


Self harm is a term referring to the act of intentionally causing yourself harm, damage or injury to your own body. It is usually associated with helping to cope with or expressing excessive emotional distress. Self harm can also be away of a person punishing themselves or to relieve themselves from emotional pain and for some it is a cry for help.

Different types of self harm:

There are many different types of self harm, including:

  • Cutting the skin
  • Pinching themselves
  • Burning themselves, for example with a lit cigarette
  • Physically hitting themselves
  • Poisoning themselves, for example with pills or liquids
  • Scratching the skin
  • Sticking objects into the skin

Some less common examples of self harm can be:

  • dangerous driving
  • excessive or binge drinking
  • taking a dangerous amount of drugs
  • having a lot of unprotected sex with multiple partners.

Ways to help yourself if self harming

If you are self harming, you should try and tell someone you trust, as it is important you do not feel alone in this situation. There are lots of apps and support groups online for people experiencing similar things. If you have wounds, it is important to have them checked by a GP.

Support for people who self-harm usually involves seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings, and how these affect your behaviour and well being.

Identify your self-harm triggers

Understanding what triggers you to self-harm is a vital step towards recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves, you can learn other ways to get those needs met, which in turn can reduce your desire to hurt yourself.

Self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. What feelings make you want to cut or hurt yourself? Sadness? Anxiety? Anger? Loneliness? Shame? Emptiness?

If you’re having a hard time pinpointing the feelings that trigger your urge to harm yourself, you may need to work on your self awareness. Self awareness means knowing what you are feeling and why. It’s the ability to identify and express what you are feeling from moment to moment and to understand the connection between your feelings and your actions. Feelings are important pieces of information that our bodies give to us, but they do not have to result in actions like cutting or self-harming.

The idea of paying attention to your feelings-rather than numbing them or releasing them through self-harm-may sound frightening to you. You may be afraid that you’ll get overwhelmed or be stuck with the pain. But the truth is that emotions quickly come and go, if you let them. If you don’t try to fight, judge, or beat yourself up over what you’re feeling, you’ll find that it soon fades, replaced by another emotion. It’s only when you obsess over the feeling that it persists.

How counselling can help with self harm

Counselling can help you by exploring the feelings behind why you started self harming in the first place. It can teach you to use coping mechanisms like the ones listed below. Your counsellor, whoever you may choose, should not make you feel shame that you’re self harming. During your counselling sessions, they will explore what it was that happened that triggered you to start self harming, work through this trauma or issue with you and hopefully find a healthier coping mechanism for your emotions.

If you self-harm to express pain and intense emotions, you could:

  • Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
  • Start a journal in which to express your feelings
  • Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
  • Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
  • Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling

If you self-harm to calm and soothe yourself, you could:

  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet
  • Listen to calming music

If you self-harm because you feel disconnected or numb, you could:

  • Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
  • Take a cold shower
  • Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chilli peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel
  • Go online to a self-help website, chat room or message board

If you self-harm to release tension or vent anger, you could:

  • Exercise vigorously – running, dance, sport, or hit a punching bag
  • Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
  • Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
  • Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
  • Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)

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