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What Makes People Self Harm?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 7 Apr 2016 | comments*Discuss
Self Harming self Harm self Harmer

There is no single identifiable reason that all self harmers hurt themselves, however many self harmers turn to self injurous behaviours as a means of coping with stress or emotions that they can not otherwise deal with. Certain aspects of an individual’s history, such as abuse or neglect, may be the cause of these emotions without the individual necessarily even realising that there is a connection. Unfortunately, because self harmers engage in harmful behaviours as a means of coping, they often try to keep their actions secret so that others will not try to make them stop. As a result, it is common that family members and friends must watch for clues that their loved ones are self harming, and get them professional help before irreparable harm is done.

Emotional Response

Although a self harmer may not recognise it, engaging in self harming behaviours usually occurs when the individual has intense or overwhelming emotions about something. In general, inflicting self harm is an individual’s way of tackling these emotions and finding a release. For some self harmers these behaviours may be engaged in as a way to combat negative feelings and to remind themselves that they are alive. Other self harmers may use these behaviours as a way to physical control an emotional pain that they can not deal with. Still other self harmers may truly hate themselves or be disgusted by themselves and show these feeling through their behaviours, while yet others may self harm so that they can then tend their own wounds and take care of themselves. Even though many self harmers carry out their actions in secret, self harming may also be an attempt to reach others. Self harmers may use their behaviours to try to manipulate or guilt others, or as a means of seeking attention that they can not, for whatever reason, ask for or seek directly.

Personal History

Though certain aspects of an individual’s personal history may not necessarily cause self harming, they may lead the individual to these behaviours as a means of coping. Common risk factors related to self harming include a history of being bullied, history of sexual abuse, a history of physical abuse, a history of neglect, the presence of a mental illness in the family, the presence of substance abuse in the family and/or depression in the individual or in the family. If an individual’s personal history does play a role in their current self harming behaviours, this history will likely be explored in therapy sessions where a professional counsellor or therapist can be a source of support to the individual and help him or her learn to move beyond these terrible circumstances.

Warning Signs of Self Harming

In order to keep others from forcing them to stop self harming, such individuals may well keep their behaviours a secret. It will become the responsibility of loved ones, then, to recognise the warning signs of self harming and attempt to get their family member or friend the help that he or she deserves. Warning signs of self harming often include:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, burns or broken bones.
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants, even in warm weather.
  • Secrecy, such as keeping a specific drawer locked, hiding specific items or consistently seeking a private location.
  • A breakdown in typical communication, such as with parents or siblings.
  • Mood changes or mood swings, particularly if these were not present previously.
  • Changes in eating patterns, such as eating very little or overeating.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, such as developing insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Changes in socialising patterns, such as isolating oneself or socialising too much.
  • Evidence of drug or medical paraphernalia among one’s possessions.
  • Evidence of carrying unnecessary sharp objects, matches or lighters.
  • Poor performance or results at school or work.
  • Loss of interest in favourite hobbies or sports.

Getting Help for Self Harming

Self harmers will rarely know how to ask for help even if they do recognise that their actions are harmful and are endangering their own health. Family members and friends may need to track down information and support for the individual, and medical and mental health professionals should all be able to provide further information on self harming and advice for specific cases. Many organisations also exist which can offer further information and support, including Childline (www.childline.org.uk), the National Self Harm Network (www.nshn.co.uk), the Samaritans (www.samaritans.org.uk) and Young Minds (www.youngminds.org.uk), a charity devoted to mental health issues as they affect young people. Many self harmers will deny that they have a problem and may well deny that they need any sort of help or treatment, so parents and other concerned adults may need to take the lead in enlisting professional support.

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@mole - you haven't specified where you are living, but if you are living in the UK there is always someone on the end of a phone line that will help (or you can get help via your GP, who could recommend some form of counselling). You could always call Family Lives link here . Or the Samaritans via the link hereboth can offer support and advice if something is troubling you. I hope this helps.
TeenIssues - 23-Jan-15 @ 12:57 PM
@misty I have tried telling someone but that didn't work out for me. It makes me feel even more bad like I am a burden for people. When I told someone they just told me to get over it, the guy doesn't mean it. But if he didn't mean it why would you say it for?And the fact is it wasnt only once he would say it ap many times. It is hard talking about it to aomeone the only reason I can do it like this isbecause you cant see me as I would be crying which makes me feel atupid. It ia easy to say it but hard to actual open up to aomeone about it.
mole - 22-Jan-15 @ 11:11 PM
@mole - it seems like you may need to talk to someone yourself about your self-confidence issues. People do and can say very hurtful things through life, but the best thing you can do is put it behind you. These people also have problems,in order to say such nasty things. There are plenty of people who will listen to you and I suggest you go and talk to someone professional who can get you back on the road to feeling good about yourself, which is something you deserve. You sound like a very kind person and you deserve some of that kindness back in return.
Misty - 22-Jan-15 @ 1:04 PM
I dont understand how people can so easily tell someone to kill themselves.How if they were in my position they would kill themsslves. Also the fact how the guy said how when I die he will have a party to celebrate, at first I wasn't affected but then at home my family started saying it. I know they weren't serious but it still hurt.At school instead of people telling the guy to stop saying that they agreed to come to the party to celebrate my death. One time I even said to him to go and get his friends to pray for my death maybe then God would listen to all of them as He never listened to me. Throughout all that only one person actually said something that I am grateful today. There was only one guy who at that time I asked for everyone to pray who said that why would I say that, I shouldnt think like that. Now I think of it he is the reason I am here, just because he decided to stand up.Every night I used to cry myself to sleep yet smile infront of everyone. When I was by myself all the dark thoughts came; different ways to kill myself- that looked like an accident.Every time I would've a bath I would write all over my body what everyone calls me and try to get rid of it thinking if I did it will all stop. Even though I finished my time at that school and everyone's gone to different schools for sixthform or gone college, I cant forget what people said about me, I have started crying myself to sleep again. It is so easy for people to say something yet they dont realise the long term effect of their words, whenever I am walking or talking to someone I always feel as though they are judging me on how I look or how I speak. I used to be confident but now my confidence is broken I feel as though when I talk I bore people and that they would rather be somewhere else.The worst part is I can't even tell anything as they won't understand what I am talking about.One time I disclosed my feelings but the person just told me to to get over it. Since then I haven't talked to anyone about it.For anyone else I beg you to talk to someone as early as you can when you get suicidal thoughts and negative thoughts as it will be easier to move one from there.Keeping it in will kill you from the inside and you will be in the same position as me feeling stupid talking about it even though it has been a year.Get help now before it is to late.
mole - 21-Jan-15 @ 10:33 PM
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