by Dr. Becky Spelman on 11/08/2014
By Private Therapy Clinic Psychology
Self-harm is a behaviour that involves a person harming themselves. The most common behaviour people attribute to self-harm is when people cut or scratch themselves with sharp objects. However, self-harm includes a variety of different behaviours: burning your skin, swallowing poisonous substances, or hitting yourself. Even binge drinking or being addicted to alcohol, drugs/drug overdose, or developing an eating disorder can be considered as self-harm.
It’s also important to note that self-harm is not a suicide attempt. Suicide can result from self-harm but this is often accidental. Self-harm is often a way of coping and an escape from emotional pain – not a wish to die.
Why People Self-harm
When it comes to self-harm, people often ask why anyone would turn to such a destructive behaviour. For those who have self-harmed or are self-harming, it is often because they have had painful or difficult experiences during their lifetime. These experiences can damage people’s self-esteem and if they feel that they have no support or no emotional outlet then their emotions (such as anger or sadness) can turn inward.
Therefore, self-harming or cutting is often a way of expressing or letting out emotions. In other words, self-harming can help a person to cope with the emotions that they can’t deal with (loneliness, anger, sadness, etc). As it is a coping mechanism, people can have different motivations for turning to self-harm, which brings us back to asking why people do it.
There are a range of reasons as to why a person may feel the need to self-harm. Some of the reasons are:
- to release emotions and tension.
- to express feelings that they can’t put into words.
- to distract themselves from emotions.
- To feel that they feel they have control – for some people, just knowing they can self-harm as a way of dealing with their emotions is enough to feel some release.
- to punish themselves, especially if they feel guilty or ashamed about something.
- to feel real/alive.
Many self-harmers will also cover-up or hide their cuts or scars because they are ashamed and they don’t want people to find out because of they are scared of how people may react. This fear of people’s reactions is due to the negative attitude that can surround self-harm and the assumptions that can be made about people who have self-harmed.
However, self-harmers should not feel afraid about coming forward because this negative attitude is becoming a thing of the past. The healthcare industry now has guidelines with regards to the treatment of self-harm patients, for example; examining the reasons behind the behaviour and helping them adopt better strategies. Therefore when people who self-harm come forward there are professionals available who will treat them in an understanding and supportive way.
What help is there available?
We can all become stressed and feel that we can’t cope. Therefore we all need support at times. There are different forms of help available for self-harm. For example:
- Talking to a trusted family member or friend can often be the first step towards recovery.
- Use creative expression instead of self-harming e.g. draw, paint, write a diary, or play an instrument.
- Work on building up esteem e.g. write a list of positive things about yourself.
- Develop new coping techniques e.g. an alternative to cutting is using a rubber band and pinging it against your skin.
Professional treatment to stop self-harming behaviour is also available and involves a Counsellor, a Psychologist, or Psychotherapist. A professional can help with developing new coping techniques and provide ways in which a person can prevent themselves from self-harming. On top of this, a professional can help a person deal with the stress or underlying problems that are causing a person to self-harm. Discussing and dealing with this stress or these underlying issues is often the best way to stop a person from continuing to self-harm.
What available help is there for you?
Are you self-harming? Is it time you got the help and support you need in order to stop?
Then call our team on 020 8150 7563 or 075 1111 6565 for a free 15 minute confidential chat or to arrange an appointment with an expert who will be able to help.