What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. Some people have described self-harm as a way to:

  • express something that is hard to put into words
  • turn invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible
  • change emotional pain into physical pain
  • reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
  • have a sense of being in control
  • escape traumatic memories
  • have something in life that they can rely on
  • punish themselves for their feelings and experiences
  • stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated (see dissocation and dissociative disorders)
  • create a reason to physically care for themselves
  • express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life.

After self-harming you may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.

Even though there are always reasons underneath someone hurting themselves, it is important to know that self-harm does carry risks. Once you have started to depend on self-harm, it can take a long time to stop.

My body comes with a trigger warning

"I didn't know how else to cope. I didn't like myself."

Read Seaneen's Story

Talking about self-harm

Watch Ben, Lechelle, Debbie and Zainab talk about the reasons behind their self-harm, the different ways they have learned to cope and how they think friends and family could have supported them.

Find out more and download our PDF today

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