What is self-harm?
The phrase ‘self-harm’ is used to describe a range of behaviours that people do to deliberately harm themselves. It can involve:
- breaking bones
- banging or scratching one’s own body
- hair pulling
- swallowing poisonous substances or objects
Self-harm can be difficult to understand and can bring much confusion and anxiety – both for those who do it and for those who care about them. It tends to be an unspoken problem, with those suffering finding it hard to talk about it, without receiving judgement or stigma. The most important thing to understand is that you can recover from a pattern of self-harm, and from feeling the urge to harm yourself.
Self-harm is generally cutting, scratching, burning and pulling hair out. It is usually a very secret activity, where cuts and scratches are kept hidden.
Often the initial action or the period of preparation beforehand can bring exhilaration and feelings of intoxication. However it usually brings only a short and temporary release and the person is left feeling guilty and ashamed afterwards. Self-harming behaviour tends to develop an addictive or compulsive quality. As a result, those who start can sometimes find it difficult to know how to stop.
When an individual arrives at a point of self-harming in this way, they don’t have a full understanding of the reasons behind their behaviour and can feel a sense of being out of control. Often times the person knows clearly what their behaviour is an indicator of, be it a reaction to trauma, turbulent emotions or destructive relationships.
In either case, if you are self-harming or preoccupied with thoughts of death, suicide or attempts to take your own life, professional support is needed to help you break the pattern of destructive behaviour.
Counselling and/or psychotherapy can help you better understand self-harm – why it happens, how to deal with it, and how to recover. Many find once they are able to talk about their problems and learn how to verbalise difficult emotions with a supportive person, their desire to self-harm lessens.