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What Is Self Harming?


Self-harm is when someone intentionally harms or injures themselves as a way to cope with very difficult feelings or overwhelming situations. The most common forms of self harm involve cutting, burning or overdoses, but it can actually be any form of behavior that causes injury to oneself regardless of how minor or high risk the behavior is. Really, if someone’s displays behavior that causes harm or injury to themselves as a way to cope with difficult emotions, it can be seen as self-harm.

Some people have described self harm as a way to express what is difficult to put into words, change emotional pain into physical pain, make invisible thoughts something visible, punish themselves for how they are feeling or to stop feeling numb. 


There are many forms someone can take to harm themselves. It is very common to think that self-harm only includes cutting or overdosing but there are actually a range of behaviors that people do to self-harm. These include:

  • Cutting yourself 

  • Biting yourself 

  • Burning your skin

  • Punching or hitting yourself or walls 

  • Inserting objects into your body 

  • Getting into fights where you know that you’ll get hurt 

  • Misusing alcohol or drugs

  • Picking or scratching at your skin

  • Purposely starving yourself or binge-eating

  • Pulling your hair 

  • Excessively exercising 


Self-harm is actually a lot more common that people think. It is more common amongst young people but people of all ages self-harm. People self-harm to cope with overwhelming and distressing feelings or emotions which can be caused by:

  • Social issues – such as being bullied, having problems at school/work, confusion about your sexuality, relationship breakdowns

  • Trauma – experiencing trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, bereavement, having a miscarriage 

  • Psychological causes – experiencing thoughts or voices telling you to self-harm, having Borderline Personality Disorder, disassociating 


  • Call an ambulance or go straight to A&E if you or someone else has taken an overdose, if someone else is unconscious, you or someone else is having difficulty breathing, are in shock after a serious cut or burn, are in a lot of pain or are losing a lot of blood.

  • Keep a diary – it might help if you keep a diary of your experiences so you can look back at it, identify triggers and then be able to anticipate stressful situations and deal with them better. Try writing down what happened before you self-harmed – did you have specific thoughts or did something or someone remind you of something difficult?

  • Distract yourself – finding ways to distract yourself when you feel an urge to self-harm can really help. It’s important to know a few ways that can help you, as sometimes the same thing won’t always work e.g. distracting yourself from fear will be different to distracting yourself from anger.  Some examples are:

– Sadness – let yourself cry, sleep, take slow and deep breaths, massage your hands
– Anger – shout, exercise, tear a piece of paper, bite on material, hit pillows
– Numb/disconnected – hold ice cubes, snap rubber bands on your wrist, have a cold shower
– Need to control – tidy up, tense and then relax your muscles, write a list
– Self-hatred – write a letter from the part of you that feels the hatred then write back with compassion, express it through writing a song, poem or a drawing, or go for a run
– Shame/guilt – accept that making mistakes is part of being human, stop spending time with people who minimize your feelings

– Delay the self-harm – waiting five minutes before you self-harm can allow the urge to pass

  • Look after your physical health – get some more sleep, choose a healthier diet and do some exercise!

  • Practice self care – make time to find activities that will make you happy and do them. Visit people or places that will make you feel better. Treat yourself! Most importantly, be kind to yourself and treat yourself as you would treat a friend – try not to be hard on yourself on your bad days, it’s a process.


  • GP – your GP can assess you and let you know about the treatment that is available, can prescribe medication for any anxiety or depression and can refer you to a Community Mental Health Team (CMHT)

  • Talking treatments – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and helps you to understand your experiences, teaching you how to recognize and overcome stressful situations. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – focuses on helping you accept that your emotions are valid, real and acceptable and teaches you to be open to ideas and opinions that contradict your own.

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