All About Self-injury

Self-injury also known as self-harm means intentionally hurting yourself to feel something or gain control of your feelings and emotions or escape traumatic memories. It involves cutting yourself with a sharp object, burning yourself, alcohol misuse or an eating disorder. The injuries maybe minor, but sometimes they can be severe and may even leave permanent scars or cause some serious health problems.

Self-injury doesn’t exactly mean that someone is attempting suicide. Although, at higher risk of attempting suicide if they do not get help. For most people, self-injury is a way of expressing themselves or transforming their emotional pain into physical pain or having a sense of control over distressing thoughts and feelings.

Self-injury may involve habits such as:

  • Cutting oneself with a sharp object such as razor blade or knife
  • Burning yourself with candles, cigarettes or matches 
  • Biting or scratching the skin
  • Picking at wounds so they don’t heal
  • Banging one’s head on the wall 
  • Punching hard surfaces such as walls
  • Participating in risky activities 
  • Bruising oneself 
  • Drug or alcohol misuse 

Signs that suggests that someone maybe self-injuring themselves 

In most cases, self-injury goes unnoticed by other people. That’s because many who self-injure do so in private and are not likely to seek help.

  • Changes in mood
  • Withdrawal from social activities 
  • Strange excuses for injuries 
  • Having frequent bruises, cuts or scars
  • Avoiding situations where you have to expose arms and legs
  • Wearing long sleeves even in hot weather 
  • Being secretive 

Why someone might self-injure

People may self-injure for different reasons. 

For some, it may be a way to manage distress or painful experiences, which may give short term relief from these overwhelming feelings.

For others, it’s only a one-time thing, while some do so frequently and for years. 

For most people, the relief feeling after self-injuring is only short term. Which can cause the desire to self-injure again and again, because the cause of one’s distress might not have gone away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.

Self-injury behavior does not know age. Although it usually starts in the teen or early adult years. It can occur in anyone at any age. 

Reasons for self-injuring may include:

  • Dealing with disturbing feelings and memories 
  • A cry for help
  • An outward sign of change in inner pain
  • Self punishment for feeling guilt or shame
  • Loneliness 
  • Make themselves feel something because they feel numb inside 
  • Anger 
  • Hopelessness 

Triggers for self-injury may include:

  • Bullying
  • School or work problems 
  • Relationship problems
  • Mental disorders such as: • Depression • Eating Disorders • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder • Personality Disorders 
  • Knowing others who self-injure
  • Impulsivity – acting without thinking
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Poor coping skills 

Note: Self-injury is not a mental health condition. It is a maladaptive coping strategy, which however, people living with mental health conditions or those who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse are at high risk of.

If you self-injure, here’s how to get help

If you self-injure, try to find people (could be friends or family members) who:

  • You feel comfortable with 
  • Can talk to 
  • You trust 
  • Will listen without judgment or constraints 
  • Are supportive 

You can also reach out to healthcare providers such as:

  • Your doctor 
  • Counsellors
  • Psychologist 

Seeking help is important and doing so early can reduce the damage caused by self-harm and decrease your risk of self-harming in the future.

If you think that someone you care about may be into self-injury, it is important that you:

  • Offer support 
  • Be patient 
  • Encourage them to get professional help 
  • Continue the conversation about their mental well-being by checking in with them to see how they’re doing 
  • If they’re not ready to talk about it, try another time or suggest that they speak to someone they’re rather comfortable talking to.

While it’s important to be there for the person that you care about, it’s a lot to manage on your own. Consider if you need to get support or advice from a healthcare professional or helpline. Support people need support too. 

You can also suggest other ways to reduce their distress such as:

  • Going for a walk
  • Finding a new hobby
  • Listening to their favorite songs 
  • Replacing self-injury actions with no injury actions such as punching a pillow
  • Journaling 
  • Deep breathing and meditation 
  • Joining support group for self-injury 


There are no medicines to treat self-injuring behaviors but certain lifestyle changes and treating any mental disorders that the person may have such as, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. may weaken the urge to self-injure.

Other treatments include:

  • Cognitive therapy which helps one manage and understand their destructive behaviors and thoughts.
  • Interpersonal therapy which helps an individual gain insight into skills for growth, development and maintenance of relationships 

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