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.

Dealing With Something Heavy? Read This. It Might Help.

Posted in: Mental Health Facts
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  • Forever_Myself

    This is a really good article on Self-Harm. I cut, carve words into my skin, sometimes even think about suicide. But honestly I don’t care what other people say about it, it’s my life and I can choose to handle it however I want. I hate my life, and I can’t talk to anyone, I’m the oldest of three so my mum is constantly running after my sisters so that she has no time for me.

    Sometimes I think that I’m a failure at life and that nothing will ever go right, no one understands why I think the way that I do, but sometimes I wish someone did. I know a few people who cut, but they say that I should stop and that it isn’t healthy. Well obviously it isn’t healthy, then why do you do it as well?

    All I really want is help, but I refuse to stop my only means of dealing with my pain and emotion. Someone please hear me, I’m begging.

    • Amy Kaufman

      I HEAR YOU. And when you have a way of coping that works for you, the idea of giving it up is horrifying, terrifying and I bet it seems impossible. Quitting, if you want to try it, isn’t easy by any means. The thing is: you can do it. For people who beat themselves up mentally, anything but 100% immediate success is going to seem like a failure and like it’s pointless to continue. But! Keeping yourself from cutting for any length of time – even a couple minutes – is a success. It’s the beginning of you taking your life back, of being able to say NO to the mean/critical/hateful voices in your head. Just like anything else, it requires practice, and getting up to your full capability won’t be instantaneous. How do you see other people deal with pain and hurtful emotions? Which ones do you think *might* be worth a try for you? Sometimes the hardest part is to just sit with the hurt, because you’re used to being able to numb yourself with injuring. It sucks to have to face your pain head on…but you can do it.

      You’re right about it being your life. It’s yours to control however you choose. What’s notable to me is you’re posting about how miserable you are (and it takes huge bravery to reach out!); it sounds to me like there’s part of you that would kind of like a change. Do you think your mum would listen if you told her it’s really important that you talk? Do you have another adult in your life you can talk to? Perhaps another relative, teacher, school counselor, coach, religious leader? No matter how alone you feel, there ARE people who care, who are rooting for you, and who believe in you. I know – I’m one of them. I know you can heal.
      With love,

  • lilah

    I used to cut. You hear all this shit about how it isn’t healthy, it isn’t good for you, physically or emotionally, but I honestly didn’t care. During the period that I cut myself, I was completely depressed, and the cutting made me feel better. It was addicting, I guess. I know i wouldnt have been able to stop if it wasnt for a certain incident that I couldn’t bring myself to cut after.

    It’s been a few months, I’m not depressed anymore. I just know that some of the scarring has faded and I can wear a bikini top and there won’t be red marks or cuts on my arms and stomach, and that feels good. And I can be happy about things. I used to hate everything in my life. Now I can usually find something good about everything. It’s really made a difference, I truly believe that stopping my cutting helped. I started to get better soon after I stopped.

    The problem is when my friends tell me they’ve cut or feel depressed. One friend has actually told me that he’s suicidal. I always worry about him when I’m texting him, miles away, and he’s in a bad mood. I’m scared that one day he’s going to go too far and he’s going to hurt himself badly. So when my friend tells me he’s cut himself again, or that he’s feeling like there’s no point to life, I get terrified. I worry I’ll say the wrong thing when I’m trying to calm him down, or that my phone won’t tell me I got a text and he’ll think I’m ignoring him, or that if he took longer than normal to respond that something bad’s happened. Because I don’t want anything to happen to him, not to any of my friends.

    I guess the point of me saying all this is that it gets better. It gets easier. But you can’t sit there thinking that everything is horrible and always will be horrible. There’s always something good, I promise. And think about your friends; if they know you cut, maybe they’re secretly worried for you, scared. There is ALWAYS someone who cares, probably a lot more than you think, and there’s always something to look forward to, even if you can’t see it. I swear to everything I have.

  • Jade

    This is a really good article on self harm actually, I was quite surprised when I read it.
    It also hit home for me because I used to self harm, grant it I never it my self for fear of blood, I did scratch my arms and legs and snap my sef with rubber bands thus leaving raised marks. It primarily started after a series of important people in my life had passed away. I eventually told my friend and stopped for several months until my boyfriend got sick and became suicidal. I felt so trapped and lost and scared that I would loose him. I began to think that I was not good enough for him to stay alive and began having panic attacks 4-6 nights a week for 3 hours each night. It became harder and harder for me until my mother walked in on my sobbing and I told her everything is the self harm. I began to feel better because someone that could help found out. I haven’t hurt my self since January and I’m so proud.
    To those you are struggling I suggest telling someone that you trust, even though it sounds cliche, it really does help. I promise.

    Stay strong <3

  • Marie

    I have been a cutter for eleven years. I started when I was 12 and I am now 23 years old. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but people do not realize that it is a very serious issue and just like with anything else, we also need all the support that we can get. We’re not freaks or anything, we just have reasons to deal with things the way that we do. I am in recovery for cutting though, I haven’t hurt myself since January, and for those of you struggling, no matter how long you do this, or how you do it, it is possible to get help and stop.

  • Ginny

    I occasionally cut, and I used to do it a lot more along with other things, including hitting myself and digging into my arms and legs with my nails. I started three years ago, about 5 months before I was diagnosed with depression. now I only cut where it is not visible unless i wear a swimsuit. I havent cut since april, which is pretty good, I was going good for about 6 months until I lost a friend to suicide and began to seriously blame myself. I told myself that it was okay because I didnt cut anywhere vital, so it couldnt kill me. eventually I began to learn from my friend, and that even though it wasnt cutting anywhere that could kill me, I was still in a way just trying to kill myself. then I realized what his death had done to his friends, family, and our entire comunity (its a small town). and I realized, why would I ever want to cause that kind of pain to anyone? every time I got to do it, I really think “is this what I want to do? how else can i solve this before it gets that bad?” most of the time that helps. but these other girls are saying how its an addication and it really is. sometimes I wake up in the morning NEEDING it, and those are the hardest days.

  • Cristie

    I used to smoke,cut myself,take pills and have eating disorder!I had many problems to face and I was trying to harm myself cause I couldn’t deal with them!My bf and I had many problems..My family had to face many of them too!I was desperate and those things made me feel better!! I was thinking about suicide every time I had a new obstacle in my life! Well I have 4 months to do this kind of things and I feel better,more confident and much more optimistic.I hope and I try to make other people laugh and help them with problems they may have.I have to say that people who harm themselves should see a psycologist to help them!I did and she helped me very very much!Try to be optimistic whatever happen!

  • Annon

    I don’t cut myself… But I do harm myself physically. Especially when I’m doing math homework, it’s a really bad trigger of mine. I get so upset for not being able to do the work, I get so mad that I feel so dumb and I just start hitting myself repeatedly until I’m worn out. It’s a really scary feeling because I don’t know why I do it and I can’t quite control it.

    Other than that, I usually only hurt myself when I’m really stressed and frustrated over things. I feel like if I just punch and bite myself or rip out my hair I’m punishing myself for not handling things right or not being smart enough to calm myself down, isn’t that silly?

    I think I’ll start to open up to my new therapist about this next time I see her. This article made me open my eyes and realize what I was doing to myself. Thank you.

  • SmilingSince96

    Right, I self harm and have done for three years. Why? because I cope that way. When my parents split up, I came to the conclusion it was my fault therefore began to punish myself. In my opinion, I find it is an addiction, some days I just have to do it.

  • Anonymous

    I used to cut, take pills and have an eating disorder, and I was diagnosed with depression 2 and half years ago. I was doing a lot better until recently, when I had to face something veryy traumatic from my past. I’m in therapy, but whenever I get upset, I start having reckless stages. I’ve suppressed the urge to hurt myself a lot recently, which I’ve been surprised I’ve been able to do. My friends have helped me get through it. I just want to tell everyone out there that it’s important to be a friend when someone is dealing with this. Most harmers don’t want attention, something’s really wrong. The worst thing I’ve been told is, “Oh it’s not serious. You’ll be fine.” take what they say 100% seriously.

  • MandiSmack

    It’s been almost a whole month since I last harmed!!!! This is a huge accomplishment for me,and it hasn’t been easy. Self harm is addicting,and I stopped when I heard the voice of my idol,Alex Gaskarth,saying I didn’t need this to be happy. My mom found out,and I’ve been clean since. Of course,I’ve had thoughts,but I never act I them. When I stopped self harming,I stopped talking to someone I called my best friend and other people who put me down. I’m not how I was before self harm,but I am happier and my self esteem has improved greatly. Trust me,cutting won’t solve every problem. Sometimes you have to just let go of the razor blade and think about people who you know love you and want you to get better. There are a lot of great websites,my favorite being To Write Love On Her Arms. Stay strong and know that someone loves you and always will

  • Amber

    I used to self-harm. But my mom found out through so called, “friends” they say they were trying to help me, but all I feel is betrayed. Now, when I want to cut, I can’t because I’m scared someone will see the cuts. Now I don’t cut, but any pain I can give myself, I do. I could get help, but I don’t see how telling a stranger- something they may not understand and won’t go through-about my problems and feelings. Maybe I just don’t want to change.?

  • 1has2shop

    I use to self-harm, but my school found out and my mum was called in and we had to “talk” for about 6 weeks the problem was gone but now hes back I started aain but I stopped after a serious talk and I started t understand how other people felt about it and now I am going councilling but it isn’t really my thing but if it helps

  • Mollygurl

    I used to self harm but somehow i managed to overcome it. God helped me make it through even tho I still felt so alone. I want you to know its okay and you can get through this! If you need someone to talk to Im here.Jesus loves you!!! -Mollygurl

  • zamira

    When I’m sad and everything is going wrong or when I fight with my bf I alway cut my veins in my arm… Believe me is like a drug for me and if don’t do this I can’t relax… Is the only way of expressing my feeling after writing in my diary. My rezor blades is my closed friend !

  • Tori.gurl

    ya no what i’m gonna admit it I CUT MYSELF! yes i cause self harming, i have said in former posts i’m emo and i’m goth. well this is the explanation i have cutting help me because the physical pain distracts me from my emotional pain witch is alot worse cuz i have to deal with all these problems. and i’m getting help and i recommend for other cutters if you wanna stop try the butterfly program. sounds cheesy but works. not for everyone (kinda worked for me) but i have a few friends it did help. and ya no what for all the people who say its stupid to cut: get the freak over it! we do this for a reason! we dont do it to be cool cuz it aint cool! so cry me a effing river build a bridje and and get the frig over it! focus on ur own problem and leave us to our. im sorry i had to say that too many ppl have called me a “attention hogger” or “Dumb @$$” for cutting and i dont want attrition i ddnt even want ppl to know! but i had to tell my friend (a fellow cutter) and she helped also fellow cutters get a friend to help you through it I’m here and im also fighting the battle of me against me

  • Hayley

    I am depressed and I’ve been trying to stop cutting. I’ve been two weeks without cutting. Things are getting better. I’m only 14 and I started cutting when I was about 10 or 11. I’ve done three attempted suicides with trying to overdose on drug and I was only caught one but I didn’t get any help. I’m too scared to get help. I want to change. This article helped. thank you!!!

    • Amy Kaufman

      Giant congratulations for going two weeks without self harm, that’s honestly a BIG deal, and I hope you’re taking pride in your accomplishment. It sounds like you’re having serious problems, and although you’ve said you’re scared to get help, I can’t recommend it enough; you’re obviously hurting very badly, and I’m wondering if perhaps something especially upsetting happened to you that’s triggered the suicide attempts. Talking to someone about what’s going on can provide so much support for you. There’s a big world and a great life ahead if you’re willing to confront what hurts (it does take a lot of courage to do so), and why spend any more of your life suffering? It sounds like you’ve done enough of it.

      You (and other readers) may want to check out the following website for a hotline, as well as live chat: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Just in case you need someone to talk to, you will always be able to find someone to listen.

      I believe in recovery for everyone out there who’s harming; you’ve got the strength in you to stop, and don’t forget that there are people you don’t even know who are cheering you on.
      With love,



  • Amber

    for the last 6 months after abortion, I’ve been having sex in my grandmother house by different boys, until I was caught before prom and graduation. I’m longer living with my grandparents. Never pology, moved in with my mother , knowing that she have not raise me at all, it there any help for me?

  • olivia

    i did self-harm. I am getting better. I just want to let people who cut themselves it does get better. I know it sounds cliche but it does!

  • BleedingSun

    Thank you so much for this 🙂 there are so many misconceptions about self harm (ie. its pathetic, for attention, the steryotypes about who does it and who doesn’t) and its nice to find an artical that clears it all up. As someone who’s been struggling with the addiction for a good 5 years, I can tell you that I’ve heard every rumor and misconception there is, been called emo and stupid and an attention whore, by people who simply don’t KNOW any better. Its important that people are educated – so they know how to help thos who harm, and to give them inspiration not to start.