- It might not seem like it, but self-harm is a way of managing painful feelings. It is rarely attention seeking – but it can be really harmful and lead to serious injury.
- Hurting yourself can take many forms and isn’t always visible.
- Self-harm only provides temporary relief – seeking help can address the underlying issue in a less destructive way.
Self-harm or self-injury is when you inflict damage on yourself on purpose.
People who harm themselves are not stupid, selfish, crazy or attention-seekers – self harm is a way to cope with difficult feelings. That doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. If you’re struggling and want to harm yourself, talk to someone. There is always a way forward.
Why people self-harm?
Self-harming is often a way of coping with painful feelings, memories or feeling overwhelmed. People self-harm may do so for a whole host of reasons, including:
- Seeking to escape traumatic memories or current situations.
- Gaining a sense of control or something that they can rely on when they feel powerless or surrounded by chaos.
- Feeling they deserve to be punished for feelings or experiences.
- Stopping a feeling of numbness, or to ground them in the here-and-now.
- Expressing something painful that they can’t verbalise.
- Relieving tension.
- Expressing suicidal thoughts without ending their life.
Self-harm can start as a coping mechanism, often as a reaction to change or to things we can’t control. The release that this gives
can be really addictive and can begin to take-over your life, becoming difficult to control.
Although those who self-harm are more at risk of suicide, self-harm is often not about trying to kill yourself – in fact it can be used as a way of dealing with things to avoid feeling suicidal. People may even be expressing a desire for help because they feel they have nowhere else to go.
You can find more about getting help for self-harm here.
If you are thinking about self-harming or are worried about something you have done, your GP can help
Where can I find help?
Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline staff are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
Outside of these hours, calls the Samaritans on 116 123
- Contact your GP for an appointment (which might be done over the phone or by video – during covid19)
- Self-refer yourself to NHS Psychological Therapies here
- Find more support at selfharm.co.uk/
If you concerned about an injury, you can call NHS 111 services, contact your GP or in serious cases call 999
Dealing with self-harm
Hurting yourself comes with serious health risks on top of the distress that you may be feeling. If you feel you have to do it, only use clean tools, and treat your cuts or burns immediately, don’t leave them to worsen.
However, there are alternatives to try to minimise risk from physical damage. They’re not totally risk free either but may help in the moment. For instance
- Hurting an object instead of yourself – ripping into a cushion, tearing up magazines, Using a red pen to mark on your skin where you might want to hurt yourself
- Punching a pillow, grabbing it and screaming into it
- Rubbing an ice-cube on your skin or hold it under your arms or legs
- Flicking an elastic band against yourself
- Having a cold shower or bath
- Use this distrACT app to help you deal with your feelings
- If you feel you have to self harm, keep everything clean and treat any wounds.
- Find medical support if you need it. No matter how you become injured, you are always deserving and entitled to medical treatment.
Resisting the urge to hurt yourself isn’t easy.
It can be really helpful to share your feelings with a trusted person or service. If you can get to the bottom of what has brought you on this road and get your feelings out, you will be able to find the route away from it.
Talking about self-harm
It can be difficult to talk about self-harm with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling
“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. Things are tough, and I have been thinking about hurting myself. Right now, I don’t need you to find a solution, I just want to share how I feel”
“I need to talk – I’ve been struggling and hurting myself because of it.”
“I’ve been hurting myself to cope with my feelings, it makes me feel… .”
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Worried about someone? Find information and advice for someone you care about here.