Everything You Need To Know About Self Harm

self harm affects all kinds of people

There are so many other ways to cope. | Source: Shutterstock

“Cutters” and “being emo” is often what we hear about people who hurt themselves on purpose (and cutting is the tip of the iceberg; harmers will also burn themselves, bruise themselves, pull out hairs, pinch, etc.), but self harm is serious and a symptom of something else: being unable to express painful feelings. Harmers are people – maybe you’re one of them – who feel so sad, so angry, so frustrated, so alone, that they’ve found that the only way to feel better is to cause themselves physical pain.

Self harm is obviously destructive, but it serves many purposes for those who engage in it: it’s a way to make emotional pain physical and easier to deal with, it’s a way to force out some sort of feeling, it’s a way to calm down, it’s a way to bring themselves back to the here and now. And while harming may start as a quick way to find relief, it’s likely to become a habit: much like alcoholics and drug addicts, who find that they can evade feelings or thoughts by getting drunk or high, harmers do so because it brings temporary relief. The thing is, once someone learns it works, they may want to use it as a quick fix again and again, until they’ve managed to not deal with your feelings and problems at all, and may not even remember how.

Now that you know a little, here are a few more facts about self harm to ponder:

* Studies suggest that about 13 to 25 percent of teens and young adults surveyed in schools have some history of self-injury, even if they’ve only done it once or twice.

* The average age for people who self-harm is 14-16; but self harm habits affect people of all ages.

* Self harm frequently goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders.

Self harm is one of the most severe punishments: your mom can ground you, your coach can bench you, your teacher can fail you, your friends can be mad at you, but when we’re already our own worst critics, hating yourself goes above and beyond what’s healthy. Harmers often take events (a low grade on a test, an argument with a parent) and turn them into proof that, as a whole, they are “A Bad Person,” or a total failure.

Once someone is focused on harming herself or himself, it can be very hard to change mindsets, because the thought can be extremely consuming, and the desire for the action overwhelming. Because self harm is so addictive, it’s also really hard to stop doing. However? It’s totally possible to get help and recover from self harming habits. The key to avoiding self harm is to prepare to do anything else in its place before the thought to hurt yourself even occurs. Avoid situations that make you want to harm, if possible. Make a list of alternatives to harming yourself (call a friend, punch or yell into a pillow, listen to music that doesn’t make you feel mad or sad, write in a journal, watch a funny TV show, go for a run, throw ice cubes at the sidewalk, draw, anything that you find distracting). Keep that list handy. When you get upset with yourself, ask yourself questions about how realistic your thinking is: don’t generalize a single incident (say, forgetting to call your friend back or doing your homework incorrectly) into “I can’t do anything right.”

More than anything, when you feel like self harming, talk to someone you trust: a parent or other family member, a friend, a teacher, your school counselor. And if you’re the one a harmer is talking to, be patient. Expecting to change this person’s mind completely or stop the harming immediately isn’t going to happen. Be empathic. You can see the detriment self harm is causing, but your friend might not be able to–-yet. If you feel like you’re in over your head, it’s okay to suggest your friend may want to talk to an adult, or a therapist.

If you are harming yourself, remember that emotions are temporary – you may feel very bad right now, but it will pass – and that learning to deal with emotions is going to help you throughout your life, even though learning to look your pain in the eye is going to be a difficult process. You are worth more than you think, and you deserve help. Take a chance and reach out.

Do you know anyone who deals with self harm? What would you do if you found out a friend was hurting herself? Talk about it in the comments.

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  • KaShauna Pearison

    I have alot of scars on my arms and legs from different things. I don’t cut myself with like a razor or anything. I pick and scratch open scabs until they bleed and when they heal again I do it again. I can’t stop doing it and my skin looks terrible so I don’t ever where shorts and I always wear long sleaves. I don’t know of this is considers self harm so.I’m afraid to talk about it. And I sometimes get angry at myself because I want to wear pretty clothes and I can’t because I look and feel so bad.

  • Savannah

    I’m a cutter and 2 of the things ppl say to me are “You need to stop” and “Why are you doing this”. Like I mean really I dont’t know how to put what I’m going through into words, everyone I trust is always too busy to talk to when I need someone. I fell very very alone. And What ppl don’t understand is that when you get addicted to cutting its not like you can just stop in a split second or even a day. It takes time and help. But the problem is no one listens to me so I cant get help. Js.

  • Lisboa Francise

    I cut from the start of yr – to the end for a year, I don’t know why I started it was the biggest mistake I ever made and I think it just started with me crying about myself so much that I thought I could commit suicide by cutting. Now I have stopped cutting but I feel sad and I keep thinking about starting again. I stopped when my friend saw one of my cuts and I had to lie to her, she is my best friend and I felt so guilty that I had to stop and it worked, I just stopped, like that. I occasionally scratch myself but it isn’t major so it doesn’t matter really. What the problem is that my friends don’t know that I self harmed in year – and now I am in year -.

  • Abigail

    I have been cutting since I was in 7th grade and I’m in 10th now and it honestly does escalate. I’m addicted to it and I can’t stop and lately they’ve been getting deeper. I’ve already been hospitalized for my depression but I can’t stop. I hate myself for so many things even in my past and I hate myself for things I do now. I just hate myself period. Even right at this moment I have the feeling to self harm. :/ if you haven’t started. Take my word and just please don’t. Don’t even do it once because if you do then you’ll become addicted. I just wish I could get better but I don’t feel comfortable being happy since that is unknown territory for me.

  • Anonymous

    I have a friend shes been pinching her self and i want it to stop. Her fathers left scars on her from trying to stop her. I just want her okay

  • Alchoholic mess

    I have been an alchoholic for ten years. Always using drugs and beer as a way to cope with feelings and not care about stress and things (at least I think that’s the reason) I don’t deal with negative emotions well. The other night I got drunk and slashed forearm with a razor so deep I needed 8 stitches and almost hit an artery. Only the second time I have ever cut but both times have been recent and while drinking. I’m not sure what to say other than don’t ever drink. It is the source of all my problems and the solution to none. Cutting has also not helped anything besides make people think I’m a lunatic. If you’re having problems seek therapy. I did it four years ago, quit smoking and drinking for a year. Best year of my life. Stopped therapy and was good for a bit but ended up back in that black hole that destroys me and people around me. Going to start over. Two days sober. If anyone needs help or advice I’m not the best person to ask but feel free.

  • anon

    i just been dumped and right now i just need another way of releiving stress then punching my radiator because im damaging my hands and my radiator i have tried everything to calm down but i cant and im just looking at a multi tool blade i cant get the thought of tearing my arms to peices out my head sum1 help me

  • Sampajama

    Dealing with self-harm is difficult. I did ever since I was little by hitting myself when I was angry but the first big thing that happened was when I was in grade 5 and decided to break my wrist off the concrete wall in the girls’ bathroom (blaming a slip on soap).

    Nowadays it happens and can be a lot worse. I punch and slap myself in the face and bite my arms. I hate when people show off cuts for attention, making self-harm seem like a joke. I messed up my jaw from punching my face uncontrollably after a breakdown and am afraid to get it checked even though it constantly pops and hurts.

    If someone says self-harm isn’t an issue, they are morons because it is and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s dangerous and once it’s fixated in someone’s mind or habits, it’s difficult to stop.

  • Transient__perfection

    I disgree with this conpletely.
    I’ve been self harming since 4th grade, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.
    I’m not doing any permanent damage and I’m not bothering, or even affecting, anyone else.

    I’m not advocating self-harm, but I sure don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

    • YungniC

      I completely agree with you theres nothing wrong with self harming

    • May

      No, you’re right. There IS nothing wrong with it. Just like there is nothing wrong with drinking til you vomit, or pouring bleach down your throat and killing yourself.

      You think it doesn’t effect anyone else? Physically, maybe not. I’ll tell you a story from when I was 17. I burned my leg, and my parents came in and they had to watch, because they know that stopping a self-harmer can be more dangerous.
      When I was 18, I drank myself into a stupor, and burned my leg again. They had to take me to A&E. They had to hold my hand while the doctor’s tore the blisters off. They had to hold me as I was told that I may well lose my leg. They had to sit up with me when I cried from the pain I was in, and from the smell of my leg rotting. They had to deal with the cocky attitude I had when my leg completely healed. They had to take me to A&E again when I burned my torso. They had to clean up the bloody sheets, when I slept in a bed with blood pouring from cuts and cuts and cuts all over my arms and body.

      My sister had to live, not knowing if she would have a sister the next morning, as I piled pills down my throat and drank myself into a wreck.

      When you say ‘there’s nothing wrong with self-harm’, you’re right. There are other, less destructive ways of dealing with depression, low mood and anxiety, sure… but there IS nothing fundamentally wrong with self-harm. In fact, it’s better than making yourself feel bad inside. In fact, self-harm has the wonderful purpose, of giving you permission to care for yourself.

      But if you say that you aren’t bothering anyone else, or effecting, or affecting them, think again. You don’t KNOW if you’re causing permanent damage. You can’t know that. You can’t know what anyone else thinks.

      The truth is, studies have shown time and time again that self-harm MAY start with little scratches and pinches that don’t even leave scars, but that it escalates most of the time. It usually gets more extreme. I started with pulling my hair out when I was just starting my final year of primary school. In secondary school, I started cutting. By my late teens, I had nowhere left on my arms TO cut. Then, it was drinking, burning, and overdosing.

      There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your life, it’s your choice. But if you think that your life and your choices don’t make a difference to anyone else, just imagine how you’d feel if you knew someone who felt SO awful about everything that they hurt themselves.

      It’s all well and good sitting there saying self-harm only effects the individual in question, but in all reality it’s like a stone dropping into a pond. One tiny pebble can cause a big ripple. Maybe your self-harm doesn’t do any damage, but despite what you say, you ARE actually advocating self-harm. You are. Some vulnerable person could be reading this right now, and you could have just sold it to them, and while that is THEIR choice, self-harm goes much deeper than skin, much deeper than the person it is inflicted upon, and much deeper than their immediate family.

      If anyone here is thinking about self-harm and needs to talk to someone, PLEASE contact a helpline, your family doctor, or a school counselor. PLEASE contact anyone who can help. Tell a friend, or a friend’s parent. Tell your own parent – a teacher.

      There are other, more effective ways of dealing with your anger, misery, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions. Ways that don’t damage your skin. Ways that don’t damage you at all, and ONLY help with NO physical or emotional drawback.

      I can’t tell you which, because you have to find the right one for you, but as someone who has been through self-harm, it usually DOES get worse, because self-harm does little to improve your self-esteem. It’s a distraction, like drinking.

      • Amy K.

        May, thank you for your courage and candidness.

  • I can’t handle this:'(

    I’m getting bullied atm,by a 15 year old girl,two 13 year old girls+a 17 year old boy…it doesn’t happen in school,its happening outside of school+over facebook..I haven’t self harmed before but I’m tempted too,as I find it the only way to let it out. I can’t handle it anymore,its too hard..I’m scared its gonna get so bad,I’m going to commit suicide..my mum took me to the police station to sort it out today,with the help of the police,but its just got worse:'( I need help,please..someone just give me some advice:'(

    • anonymous ;*

      Don’t hurt yourself in anyway. It’s a path you don’t want to go down. Trust me. Ive been a self-harmer myself. Ive gone through some pretty messed up shit. Please don’t cut, don’t burn, don’t hurt yourself. If they bully your appearence, ignore it. You were made the way you are. You’re beautiful and amazing. If you are having serious thoughts about self-harming, talk to a friend, or your mom about it. Talk to someone you know you can trust. Block these people on facebook. If it gets bad enough, delete your facebook account and make a new one. Avoid them in anyway you can. But don’t blame yourself for their rude comments. Be who you want to be. Not what they say. Karma is a bitch. what goes around, comes around. People who bully, are low-lifes. They probably have some issues themselves. Maybe they’re jealous of something that you have, that they don’t have. Trust me, they are just trying to get inside your head. Don’t let your gaurd down. Don’t let them think they’re winning. Prove them wrong. You are amazing and Beautiful in your own way. Remember that <3 ~ Anonymous ;*

  • Chloe

    I self harm and I really dont like doing it but its sooooo hard to stop. It upsets my friends and my boyfriend and I want to stop si bad but Ive tried and I just cant. My home life doesnt help the way I feel, but I still want to stop. My boyfriend wants me to stop and he knows how hard it is for me. To be honest, hes the only one who tries to understand me at the moment and I love him even more for it. Im just glad to have someone like him in my life. Just remember guys, you can get help and I hope you all get it soon.

    • Raven

      When you ant to cut yourself call your boyfriend first. Say “I need you,” have him come over. As it should be, he is the one who cares the most. He will help you.

  • Luna

    Im a cutter.. and i hate myself for it.

    • maranda

      dont hate yourself for it ………….. that makes it worse
      think postive

    • andrealeonor

      So am I. And I hate myself for it too.

    • ?

      Try instead of cutting go for a nice long walk get away from your cutting tools, If thing’s get to seris go and get rid of your cutting tools. If you want to stop for good tell someone or try to get your self to stop doing it bye taking a rubber band and snapping your self every time you think about cutting your self.

    • anonymous ;*

      Don’t ever hate yourself. Sometimes we just find it to be the only way to cope. Or sometimes it just gets addicting :// trust me, I know. But The next time you feel like cutting, Take a look at your scars. Think of the kids you may want someday. when they ask you what happened. What will you tell them? Or the thought of walking down the isle on your wedding day, looking down and seeing your scars? Don’t cut. Because scars are forever. It reminds you of a dark past that you never want to think of again. The scars you have now? Take a look. It will always remind you that the past is real. But it’s time to move on. Start a new chapter in your life. A happier era in your life. Become a different you. Don’t ever hate yourself. Just remember that the past was real <3 ~Anonymous ;*

  • briana

    i found out a few months ago that my BFF cut herself regularly. I was in schock becuz i wouldve never expected HER of doing anything like that. She was the smartest funniest most happiest person ive ever known. When she told me in confidence, it opened up a whole new world to me. I learned that just because someone might not like like they can be capable of doing that, doesnt mean they aren’t because we dont know anything about their life. We dont know how they think or how they feel. We just need to be great friends and always be there for them

  • BriannaShaeWalker

    I am..[was] a cutter. I was diagnosed with Depression a few months ago.. People call us ’emo’..but every single teenage girl out there is emotional. There’s nothing wrong with it, its completely normal..but hurting your self is not. Cutting releases pain. Sex, drugs,and alcohol do that too, but not like cutting. Nothing is like cutting. Being able to make your pain visible is the only thing that concerns you. The pain being physical, is so so much better than it being emotional pain, because you can control it. <3 Im getting better. Everytime i want to cut i draw a butterfly on my arm. If i cut the butterfly will die. I cant wash off the butterfly, it has to come off naturaly. Other people can draw butterflies on you too, those are way more special. You wouldnt want that person to die. <3 I understand anyone out there who hurts thereself, but i promise there is a better tommorrow. and God is always with you!

  • Evangiline

    i have been dealing with eating disorders and self harm for over 6 years (im 17.) I told my mom the first time i did it, and she told me i was being dumb and “just dont do it”. I continued to do it for the next 6 years, until one of my friends went to an adult at our high school. I ended up being rushed to the ER from the school that day. the school contacted my mom, and the man that talked to her told me that he could tell she had no emotion about it. I got myself into treatment (for the eating disorders) and also worked on the self harm there, until this summer when i went on a mission trip out of the country. when i came back my mom said i was fine and didnt need to go there anymore. (aka too bad your not going even if you want to.) I didnt argue with her because there is no point, once she says something, it doesnt change. im terrified im going to relapse. i already refrain from eating again, but i dont want it to get worse. what do i do??

  • LocalOreo

    I used to cut myself. Nobody knew and I still haven’t told anybody. I would make small but deep cuts adn hide them. Part of the reason I did it was for selfloathe. I didn’t like my self and thought that I needed to be punished for even existiing. Then there was my Mom. She would, and still does, call me things like fatty or youare ugly, you are a pig and no man would want you. It’s bad enough when you hear that stuff in school, but when it comes from your mom you have no idea how much it hurts. Fortunately I have stopped cutting myself. It’s been about three to five months. I have to admit that sometimes i’m tempted to go back. I know that I probably will. I’m still trying to accept myself, although I’m not to the point where I can look at myself and say that I deserve to not hurt myself and that I am beautiful