What is self-harm?
Self-harm is just what it sounds like: a person hurts themselves intentionally, specifically without intent to commit suicide. This usually includes a ritual which the person follows each time.
- Self-harm does not include hurting others or lashing out.
- Self-harm is never committed by another person.
- Self-harm is defined by a physical injury or trauma. If no physical injury occurs, the behavior and/or symptoms are not classified as self-harm.
- Self-harm is committed intentionally. Accidents or unintentional injuries do not qualify as self-harm.
- Self-harm never includes suicide attempts. Although a person who has attempted to commit suicide may have hurt themselves, they are trying to die, which is directly opposite the models of self-harm.
Why do people self-harm?
The reasons for self-harm are unique to each person, but there are several common factors.
- Relief from emotional or physical pain. Causing a physical injury prompts the body to begin the physical healing process. The body releases endorphins, hormones, adrenaline, and other chemicals which reduce physical and emotional pain.
- Addictions to endorphins can form. Endorphins affect the body in a way similar to morphine. Adrenaline is also addictive in the same way.
- Reenacting previous abuse is another reason a person may hurt themselves. This can represent the person taking control in a way they couldn’t when they were abused, or could be part of a flashback episode.
- Self-nurturing is another goal of self-harm for some people. Sometimes, the person feels alone or abandoned, and self-harms to provide a reason to take care of themselves. Many people in this category have rituals regarding their self-care, which can sometimes include preventing the wound from healing properly.
If someone self-harms, are they suicidal?
Self-harm events and suicide attempts are completely different actions. In fact, if someone attempts to commit suicide, the event is not considered self-harm, regardless of physical injury. If someone self-harms, they are looking for solace, strength, or relief which makes living easier. If someone attempts to commit suicide, they are trying to die, not live a better or easier life.
- Gender: Both genders are equally likely to self-harm, about 8.9% of the population. Transgender individuals, however, are much more likely to have self-harmed, up to 59%.
- Sexuality: LGBQ individuals are between 3 and 6 times more likely to self-harm at some point in their lives.
- Age: Self-harm usually begins as a teenager, intensifies into the twenties, and fading in the thirties. This is by no means a hard rule, and people of any age might self-harm.
- Victims of abuse are much more likely to self-harm. It should be recognized that those who self-harm are not always victims of abuse, and not all victims of abuse self-harm.
Wait, boys self-harm too?
Yes, despite the mistaken perception of self-harm affecting mainly girls, both genders are equally likely to self-harm.
Is self-harm an attention-seeking behavior?
Not necessarily. Some individuals might self-harm to communicate pain, but this is done to reach out, not cause drama or receive pity.
How do people self-harm? Is it just cutting?
While cutting is the most commonly seen form of self-harm, there are many ways a person might self-harm, including:
- Burning (flames, cigars, hot objects, and sometimes flammable substances such as gasoline)
- Biting fingernails, cheeks, lips, or fingers
- Breaking bones
Where is someone likely to hurt themselves?
The most common places a person might self-harm are:
- Shoulders and upper arms
What kinds of rituals are involved when someone self-harms?
Any repetitive behavior a person participates in is considered a ritual. These elements can include:
- Location of injury. Some people always self-harm in the same place, even cutting or burning scar tissue from previous self-injury sites.
- Type of injury. Usually one or two forms of self-harm are used regularly.
- Environment is another factor. Many people only self-harm in a particular place such as the shower, bedroom, or garage.
Is it possible to stop self-harming?
Yes! Most people grow out of their need to self-harm. Others remove or treat the cause of the need to self-harm. The first step, as with anything, is to ask for help! I suggest a few things for folks who are looking for help:
- See your doctor, therapist, or family member you trust.
- Make notes for yourself, so you can clearly communicate your points.
- If you become overwhelmed, take a break. Talking can be hard.
- Be compassionate to yourself. You deserve it.
What do I do if someone tells me they have self-harmed?
Here are my best tips for helping someone who has reached out to you. Remember, you know them better than I do, so YMMV.
- Feel honored. It’s not easy to trust someone with your pain. They told you, therefore they trust you.
- Listen, don’t assume. Everyone’s experience is unique.
- Encourage treatment.
- Avoid telling the person that they can/should be “fixed”, and instead focus on treatment or “help”.
- Emphasize that they aren’t alone. They have you, and people all over the world are getting help, too.
- Say, “I love you.”
- Don’t say, “I understand,” unless you have been there.
- Don’t encourage passivity. Letting God take care of things includes them getting treatment. Taking care of yourself is half of God taking care of you.
- Don’t give up, but take breaks if you need to. Your needs are important, too!
To everyone: Whether you self-harm, know someone who self-harms, or suspect someone you know might self-harm, it’s important to remember that people are people, not their illness. Hate the illness, but never the sick. We’re all human, okay?