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What Is Self-harm?

Self-harm is purposefully engaging in behaviors intended to harm oneself. Some individuals engage in self-harm a few times and stop while others find it extremely difficult to stop. It is often a way of dealing with distressing emotional pain. As strange as it sounds, hurting yourself physically can create temporary positive sensations.

Self-harm behaviors can include:

  • Cutting (using a razor blade, knife, or other sharp object to cut or scratch the skin).


  • Punching self or things.
  • Burning with cigarettes, matches, or candles.
  • Pulling out hair.
  • Breaking bones or bruising body.


Why would someone choose self harm?


1. To Regain Control; To Shift Attention

People sometimes harm themselves because by harming they are able to gain a subjective sense of control over thoughts. Seizing this control involves shifting the focus of their attention towards something less troubling.


2. To Release Tension

Sometime people do self harm to release some tension. Sometimes an aspect of a person’s chaotic internal experience is that feelings and thoughts build up a subjective state of tension or arousal that motivates people to do something to reduce that tension or arousal. Self harm apparently, serve such a tension-reducing feeling.


3. To Express pain

Sometimespeople who self-harm are not skilled at using language to describe their inner feeling this can be because they are not particularly good with words.

It can be because they never learned what words to use to describe emotion. It can be because what they experience inside their minds that words can’t do justice.


4. To Return From Numbness

Traumatized people sometimes cope with their trauma by dissociating..

So, a person who dissociates may not remember something that happened to them which was very painful because through the process of dissociation they were able to store that painful memory in a section of their mind that the rest of them doesn’t know how to find. We’re all familiar with the idea that it is painful to experience pain sensations. What people may not know or realize is that it is also painful to not feel anything.


5. To punish themselves

Some people who self-harm because they seek to punish themselves or they have survived substantial abuse. One of the lasting long-term effects of abuse is that the voice of the abuser stayed into the minds of the victims in such a way that the victim starts to judge him or herself in the same way that the original abuser did and start to punish himself or herself.

6. To Experience Euphoria

The final reason I’m aware of that people who self-harm describe has to do with feelings of euphoria or at least pleasant feelings that some self-injurers report occurs right after they have finished cutting or burning or otherwise damaging themselves.

I think it’s like what happens after you exercise vigorously—you get a “runner’s high”; a temporary feeling of bliss that occurs right after you’ve worked out. Only in this case, the feeling of bliss happens in the aftermath of damaging yourself.

Some self-harmers have described this feeling as addiction. They remember how good that feeling felt and become motivated to self-harm to recreate that feeling.

If You Suspect Someone Is Self-harming

  • Listen without being critical; focus on them rather than your feelings.
  • Try to understand that what they are saying exactly, try to understand their feelings,
  • Help them find out the facts about self-harm
  • Remind them self-harm is not a shameful thing, but a problem to be addressed.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help to learn new ways of addressing problems.
  • Never Try to be their therapist
  • Never get angry or upset with them about their self-harm, they are telling you because they trust you.
  • Never give them Threat to leave the relationship unless they stop.

Resources to Help

If you suspect someone you care about is engaging in self-harming behavior, starting a conversation can be one of the most difficult but most caring things for you to do.

Below are resources to help self-harming behavior:

Website: contact our therapist

Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation  by Steven Levenkron
Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut & Self-Injure by Lawrence E. Shapiro



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