5 Misconceptions You Might Have About Self-Harm

Self-harm is a lot more complicated than you can imagine. | Source: Shutterstock

Self-harm is a lot more complicated than you might expect. | Source: Shutterstock

I’ve mentioned my struggles with trichotillomania before here on Gurl and while this is a problem that I’ve dealt with on and off ever since I was a kid, I recently learned something about it that I’ve never considered before. According to the NHS, trichotillomania can be considered self-harm. This freaked me out, because I usually associated self-harm with cutting, which I also–falsely–associated with suicidal ideation.

For me, trichotillomania is more of a compulsive habit that I end up doing when I’m bored and reclining with  my laptop or something I do unconsciously in high stress situations. But when I am aware of my actions, I usually don’t stop. As much as I hate pulling my hair, in a twisted sort of way it can feel relieving and reduces phantom tension that I didn’t know I had. For people who self-harm, their actions also temporarily relieve anxiety or tension.

The more I researched, the more I realized that I made a ton of assumptions about self-harm that were straight up wrong. Here are some misconceptions about self-harm that you should definitely be aware of:

1) Self-harm isn’t just about suicidal intent

While self-harm is often linked to suicide and many suicidal people self-harm, most people who engage in self-injury don’t have suicidal intentions at all.

2) Self-harm goes beyond cutting

Like I said, I usually associated self-harm with cutting, but there are other disorders and actions that fall under the self-harm umbrella. This includes hair pulling (trichotillomania), picking at wounds or interfering with the healing process, intentionally hitting, bruising or injuring yourself, abusing medication, some eating disorder symptoms, etc.

3) Self-harm can have many different sources

Many people who self-harm do it as a result of anxiety issues, difficult home or school life, or trauma. Self-injuring can also be prompted by depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. This is important because while self-harming by cutting is certainly very different than self-harming by hair pulling, they can both might stem from the same feelings of anxiety, tension, depression, self-loathing, guilt, etc

4) Self-harm isn’t just about getting attention

Some people (i.e. jerks) think that self-harm is all just attention seeking garbage. There is a difference between a cry for help and a cry for attention. That person you think is just showing off her self-injury probably needs help. Nobody is regularly harming themselves just to look cool.

5) Self-harm is nothing to be ashamed of

There can be a lot of feelings of shame and disgust when it comes to self-harm. I know that after I have a hair pulling binge, I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself and ugly after I look at the damage. The temporary relief doesn’t make up for the feelings of guilt that I experience afterwards. But shaming myself isn’t helpful and it does more harm than good.

Whether your experiences with self-harm are severe or mild, it doesn’t hurt to talk with your friends, family or a mental health professional about getting some help. You’d be surprised by how many people you interact with every day experience similar problems and also need someone to talk to.


Do you struggle with self-harm? Are there any other misconceptions of self-harm that really grinds your gears? Tell us in the comments!

6 Reasons Why Therapy Isn’t For Crazy People

Follow us on Twitter!

Posted in: Your Body
Tags: , ,
  • Ruzuki

    I realized recently that self harm also includes manipulating abusers in your life to harm you. I used to often instigate my brother into beating me and afterwards couldnt understand why…

  • Zeinab

    Im trying to stop cutting… I havent done it since October 5th but I want to do it again.

    I started when I was around.. 10? 11? Yeah.. I used to just scratch myself with a piece of glass or try to cut with a small rusty pencil sharpener razor, but now I use knife cuz I actually bleed with a knife.

    I do it because I like the sensation and its an escape from my problems, if at least temporary.

    I’m 13 now by the way.. 😐

    (tumblr: http://officialegypt.tumblr.com)

  • leah

    Im a cutter and all those misconceptions are wrong
    People who cut and show it off you know that you it is fo attention cutters try sooo hard to cover there scars and keep in it a secret . People should atuly talk to some one who is a cutter . It takes alot of to turn emotional pain into physical painting they are broken inside and then to hear all the misconception about them hurt so don’t make assumptions about them try to help. I didnt onow I was addicted untill I tried to stop

  • Skye

    Since I was about three I had a habit of picking at bug bites and little cuts I received from playing outside. I would pick at them whenever I was under stress or upset, or sometimes I would just do it and not realize I was doing it. But once I did, I wouldn’t stop. And now, seventeen, I still do it. I occasionally cut myself but as I am trying not to do that I haven’t in almost a year:) I also tend to starve myself, not intentionally. I sometimes forget to eat, I know it sounds crazy but I do forget to eat all the time. I never realized these things I did were considered self harm until I was about fifteen. (i didn’t start cutting until I was sixteen) so I knew it was self harm. But I didn’t care. It was a relief for me. Now, I’m just trying to stop all forms of self harm I do, it’s hard, but I’m doing my best 🙂

  • Emily

    I am a 14 y/o girl. I have been self harming for 5 years. 3 of those years, are cutting. Im 1 day clean..so far. I have heard all these misconceptions. I strongly disagree with all of them. :/

  • Anna

    I self harmed for 5 years and I hate when people think its for attention. For years I only did it on my thighs where no one would see it, I started cutting in more visible places when I had truly run out of room on my legs, I wish no one knew about it.

  • Madison

    Okay, so i’m a former self harmer, and honestly, I’m to the point where I want to go back to it. I did it before because I was sad, depressed, I have anxiety.. Honestly, I hate myself. My self harm has nothing to do with being suicidal. I’ve never been suicidal. I mean, if I’m standing at a high point, I might think “would I die If I fell from here?” Or sometimes I wonder who would miss me. But in the end Id never have the guts. But I want to continue self harming so badly.. And not tell ANYONE. Because my bestfriends made me stop.. They wanted me to tell my mom. I wasn’t having it. So I quit.. But I feel like I NEED to continue. I hate me… And one thing that irks me is when people say “cutting is gonna ruin your skin!” Like, no. I’m a tiger who’s earned it stripes. Get it right.

  • Nikki

    I’m glad this has been brought up, It’s a very serious subject that is often taken lightly. When I was younger I had an eating disorder and I started to self harm when I was 12, I did it every day for 3 years and then on and off for 2. I’m now training to be a psychiatric nurse to help people going through the same issues I went through

  • natalya

    I do the type of self harm the is interfering with the healing process and picking at wounds.
    Whenever I get a bug bite, I scratch it till it bleeds.
    This also happens whenever I’m itchy.
    I just scratch it a lot.
    My ankles have lots of circular scars from bug bites that I scratched a lot, also whenever they try to heal ill scratch them again or pick off the scab.

  • Olga

    I used to cut when I was young. I was about… 13 years old when I first started. I can remember when I started doing it in middle school and my “friends” often talked about it like it was something cool – always asking to see my cuts and doing a girlie little “Whoa!” when seeing my slash marks I covered with a sweater – and figured I was just doing it for the attention since it got the point where I didn’t even care who knew about it. I was just stuck in a rough time and state of mind. I tried stopping plenty of times, but I always went through this withdrawal as well that I knew could compare to a drug withdrawal. All I knew was that I needed that “fix”.

    When my parents finally found out (one of my “friends” told the school counselor and a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t even remotely true), my dad exploded on me. He just yelled at me how I had no reason to be doing what I was doing, how I lived in a stable home environment with two parents who take care of me and how I was going to end up in a mental hospital because I was legally insane and other other things that shouldn’t be told on here. My mother? Said nothing. She didn’t even put in one word. What my dad didn’t know was that HE was the reason for my cuts. He always verbally abused me and my mother, often claiming he did what he did to “toughen me up” for the real word. But this came a great mental cost for me that I know he failed to realize or even think about. Hence, me cutting.

    When my mother began checking me out for any more cuts on a regular basis, I knew I couldn’t cut anymore without getting into more trouble. So, I switched to an eating disorder, Bulimia, instead that proved to be just as powerful as cutting. I managed to eventually end it years later, but God was it hard. I still have to fight off the urge to throw up now even today. Addictions are not always just drugs or needles.

    Back then, I was in a lot of pain that I needed to express one way or the next even if it cost me physically. I was that desperate and helpless to get the pain out. All I actually needed was just for someone to help me, but everyone around me just kept ranting on about how I was just looking for attention and didn’t really have a problem. How little they actually knew is that if they just listened to me and didn’t choose to be blinded by their opinion, it would have saved me a lot of pain – both emotionally and physically.

    • Mai

      I wish I knew you and could have helped you through that. I know I like being alone and I hate pity but, I’m sorry. Though I have no knowledge of you I wish. That I could be there.

  • Hailey

    I’ve been struggling with self harm for a while. My thighs are covered with scars from my cutting. I used to just scratch, but about a month ago I pushed hard enough that I broke skin. After that I can’t just go back to scratching. I need to bleed to feel okay.

    My tumblr: http://fightingmoonlight.tumblr.com/

  • YuiGyaruRamen

    I use to self harm. I’ve been clean since our recent summer. 🙂

  • barrelracer15

    Sad to say, I do self harm. I “cut” but not with a razor blade or something. I just use whatever sharp object i have close enough to me and i scratch at my wrist and forearm. i have cuts all over my left arm. none that are deep enough to bleed or scare but they burn. even though they hurt. i want to feel the pain. idk why. people think im crazy but it’s just sort of a release. I want to stop because I know i shouldnt be doing it to begin with but i guess i get sort of a with drawl when i go so long without scratching. My step dad saw my scratches today when my hoody was exposing some of them. he yelled at me. i dont know what the sense in that was because he just works me up even more. I want to talk to my boyfriend about it because he went through it too. but he went to a much farther extent. he gouged his chest with a broken pop can and tried to brake his own fingers because he wanted to feel the pain. I feel that talking to him would be the best thing for me because honestly, i dont think those “professionals” can help unless they have been through it themselves.

    • Jenna

      I know you don’t think a professional can help, but give it a chance anyway–you might be surprised. I used to self-harm too, but I got help, and I don’t do it anymore. It’s still a battle, but I have the tools to fight it now. Good luck!