Everything You Need to Know About Self-Harm

everything self harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is just what it sounds like: a person hurts themselves intentionally, specifically without intent to commit suicide. This usually includes a ritual which the person follows each time.

  1. Self-harm does not include hurting others or lashing out.
  2. Self-harm is never committed by another person.
  3. Self-harm is defined by a physical injury or trauma. If no physical injury occurs, the behavior and/or symptoms are not classified as self-harm.
  4. Self-harm is committed intentionally. Accidents or unintentional injuries do not qualify as self-harm.
  5. Self-harm never includes suicide attempts. Although a person who has attempted to commit suicide may have hurt themselves, they are trying to die, which is directly opposite the models of self-harm.

Why do people self-harm?

The reasons for self-harm are unique to each person, but there are several common factors.

  1. Relief from emotional or physical pain. Causing a physical injury prompts the body to begin the physical healing process. The body releases endorphins, hormones, adrenaline, and other chemicals which reduce physical and emotional pain.
  2. Addictions to endorphins can form. Endorphins affect the body in a way similar to morphine. Adrenaline is also addictive in the same way.
  3. Reenacting previous abuse is another reason a person may hurt themselves. This can represent the person taking control in a way they couldn’t when they were abused, or could be part of a flashback episode.
  4. Self-nurturing is another goal of self-harm for some people. Sometimes, the person feels alone or abandoned, and self-harms to provide a reason to take care of themselves. Many people in this category have rituals regarding their self-care, which can sometimes include preventing the wound from healing properly.

If someone self-harms, are they suicidal?

Self-harm events and suicide attempts are completely different actions. In fact, if someone attempts to commit suicide, the event is not considered self-harm, regardless of physical injury. If someone self-harms, they are looking for solace, strength, or relief which makes living easier. If someone attempts to commit suicide, they are trying to die, not live a better or easier life.

Who self-harms?

  1. Gender: Both genders are equally likely to self-harm, about 8.9% of the population. Transgender individuals, however, are much more likely to have self-harmed, up to 59%.
  2. Sexuality: LGBQ individuals are between 3 and 6 times more likely to self-harm at some point in their lives.
  3. Age: Self-harm usually begins as a teenager, intensifies into the twenties, and fading in the thirties. This is by no means a hard rule, and people of any age might self-harm.
  4. Victims of abuse are much more likely to self-harm. It should be recognized that those who self-harm are not always victims of abuse, and not all victims of abuse self-harm.

Wait, boys self-harm too?

Yes, despite the mistaken perception of self-harm affecting mainly girls, both genders are equally likely to self-harm.

Is self-harm an attention-seeking behavior?

Not necessarily. Some individuals might self-harm to communicate pain, but this is done to reach out, not cause drama or receive pity.

How do people self-harm? Is it just cutting?

While cutting is the most commonly seen form of self-harm, there are many ways a person might self-harm, including:

  1. Cutting
  2. Burning (flames, cigars, hot objects, and sometimes flammable substances such as gasoline)
  3. Scratching
  4. Biting fingernails, cheeks, lips, or fingers
  5. Breaking bones
  6. Hitting

stand alone

Where is someone likely to hurt themselves?

The most common places a person might self-harm are:

  1. Shoulders and upper arms
  2. Wrists
  3. Chest
  4. Thighs
  5. Genitals

What kinds of rituals are involved when someone self-harms?

Any repetitive behavior a person participates in is considered a ritual. These elements can include:

  • Location of injury. Some people always self-harm in the same place, even cutting or burning scar tissue from previous self-injury sites.
  • Type of injury. Usually one or two forms of self-harm are used regularly.
  • Environment is another factor. Many people only self-harm in a particular place such as the shower, bedroom, or garage.

Is it possible to stop self-harming?

Yes! Most people grow out of their need to self-harm. Others remove or treat the cause of the need to self-harm. The first step, as with anything, is to ask for help! I suggest a few things for folks who are looking for help:

  1. See your doctor, therapist, or family member you trust.
  2. Make notes for yourself, so you can clearly communicate your points.
  3. If you become overwhelmed, take a break. Talking can be hard.
  4. Be compassionate to yourself. You deserve it.

What do I do if someone tells me they have self-harmed?

Here are my best tips for helping someone who has reached out to you. Remember, you know them better than I do, so YMMV.

  1. Feel honored. It’s not easy to trust someone with your pain. They told you, therefore they trust you.
  2. Listen, don’t assume. Everyone’s experience is unique.
  3. Encourage treatment.
  4. Avoid telling the person that they can/should be “fixed”, and instead focus on treatment or “help”.
  5. Emphasize that they aren’t alone. They have you, and people all over the world are getting help, too.
  6. Say, “I love you.”
  7. Don’t say, “I understand,” unless you have been there.
  8. Don’t encourage passivity. Letting God take care of things includes them getting treatment. Taking care of yourself is half of God taking care of you.
  9. Don’t give up, but take breaks if you need to. Your needs are important, too!

To everyone: Whether you self-harm, know someone who self-harms, or suspect someone you know might self-harm, it’s important to remember that people are people, not their illness. Hate the illness, but never the sick. We’re all human, okay?

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