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Self harm. What is self harming? Part one.

Updated on August 3, 2016

Self-harming behaviours can refer to a wide range of behaviours such as drug use or drug abuse, smoking, starving, (anorexia), bingeing, vomiting after meals, (bulimia), compulsive eating, over exercising, excessive alcohol intake, unprotected sex, risky behaviours such as fast driving, staying in abusive situations or not taking care of oneself. For the purpose of this paper, self-harm refers to behaviours that people do to themselves, in a deliberate and usually hidden way.

I am a survivor of sexual and physical abuse. Although I do not self-harm now, I self-harmed to deal with the extreme emotional distress and sheer frustration I often felt. Hurting myself would shift my intense emotional pain to a physical pain, a pain I could cope with, knew how to cope with.

Self harm can include: Cutting, burning, scalding, banging or scratching ones own body, hair pulling and ingesting toxic substances or objects.

Self-harming is an expression of distress. It is an act done to oneself, by oneself, with the intention of helping oneself rather than killing oneself. Damage is done to the body as an attempt to preserve the integrity of the mind. Self harm is a way of expressing and coping with emotional distress and the intent is to make life more bearable. It is a way of communicating what cannot easily be verbalised. In essence, self-injury is the act of attempting to alter a mood state by inflicting physical harm serious enough to cause tissue damage to one's own body.

Self-harm definitions

Self-harmers are often misunderstood and it is often thought that they must be suicidal, yet we often find that self-harm is about staying alive. Although there is a relationship between self-harm and suicide, and some self-harmers do go on to commit suicide because of their need to escape severe emotional distress, suicide may not have been the intention. The following definitions show that:

"Self-injury is a compulsion or impulse to inflict physical wounds on one's own body, motivated by a need to cope with unbearable psychological distress or regain a sense of emotional balance. The act is usually carried out without suicidal or decorative intent". Sutton (2005)

"While self-injury is usually done to help a person cope and get through a difficult situation (a life sustaining behaviour) suicide is performed as a way of ending life". Sutton (2005)

Self-harm is about exchanging unbearable emotional pain with bearable physical pain.

Why do young people self-harm

It is important to recognise that self-harm is a symptom of underlying mental or emotional distress. Research shows that young people who self-harm have often endured extremely traumatic or stressful life situations and for many there may be multiple triggers, rather than on significant change or event in their lives that leads to them self-harming.

Factors that can lead to self-harm can include, feeling isolated and unsupported, academic pressures, suicide or self-harm by someone close to the young person, family problems including divorce and separation, being bullied or rejected by peers, low self-esteem, sexual, physical or emotional abuse, neglect or deprivation, losing someone close, being pressured into self-harming by friends who do the same, being homeless, being unemployed and having no money, being pregnant or being alone with a baby, fear and shame about sexuality, racial harassment and oppression.

Sutton J. (2005) Healing the hurt within. 2nd edit.

Part two. Self-harm

Part three. Self-harm

Self harm help

Women and Depression through the ages. Part one.

Women and depression through the ages. Part two.Confinement

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    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      I just found your post a few moments ago. I'm not ready to read your own story right now. But, I'd like to know more about self mutilation itself. Thank you for such a detailed series of posts.

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 5 years ago from UK

      Hi Damien. Thanks for pointing out the female self-image. I have written four papers on self-harm and hope they are helpful. Guys too need help and love. Sending love. x

    • Damien204 profile image

      Damien 5 years ago

      It was a very good piece. I have only one issue. If you look at where the hub is located, it says "Female Self-Image." I would just like to ask that, as a guy that has cut himself for years, if you post more about self harm will you post it in a more generalized area? I'm getting the help I need. Guys need love too.

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 5 years ago from UK

      I strongly urge anyone who is self-harming to speak to someone. It helps to talk even if the urge to hurt yourself is still present. We need more people like you Eddy who can listen without judgement and without being too shocked about what they hear and see. Thanks for reading and have a really good day.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      I worked with youngsters in a bail hostel and this problem was rife.

      You have covered it here in a sensitive way.

      I found once they came to talk to me if that's what they wanted to do it lessend greatly.

      I await more on this sad but so common problem.

      Take care and enjoy your day.


    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 5 years ago from UK

      Hi Aisa. I am covering young people in part two later today. Thanks for reading and hope the information is useful.

    • Aisla profile image

      Carolyn Mikkelsen 5 years ago from Norway

      This was very good and i also look forward to part 2. Do you have any advice for people living close to teenagers or young adults with this problem?

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks dinkan53

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 5 years ago from India

      good topic, will wait for your upcoming parts of self harm.