top of page

Understanding self-harm

Self-harm, self-injury or self-mutilation is the deliberate and direct act of causing physical damage to one’s own body. It can be a symptom of many psychiatric, mood and personality disorders including substance and process addictions but it can be a condition on its own. This is known as NSSI - Non-Suicidal Self Injury.
Common forms of self-harm range from cutting, burning, scratching, hitting and bruising body parts, to skin-picking and compulsive hair-pulling. Although many other harmful behaviours cause pain and leave physical damage, what distinguishes self-harm are the things that motivate it.

Many of these are complex and often contradictory and include:

⦁    Expressing something that is hard to put into words
⦁    Turning intangible thoughts or feelings into something tangible
⦁    Changing emotional pain into physical, heal-able and often pleasurable pain
⦁    Having a sense of being in control during moments of fear, stress or sadness
⦁    Escaping traumatic memories
⦁    Punishing yourself for your own feelings, acts and experiences
⦁    Ending a feeling of numbness, disconnection or dissociation
⦁    Creating a reason to physically care for yourself
⦁    Giving a sense of identity when you feel you have none 
⦁    Expressing suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking your own life

Self-harm can be an expression of rag, comfort and desperation all at the same time. It can even be understood as an act taken in order to fight for life, where suicidal urges can be acted out but not acted on. Although many self-harmers may stop there direct behaviours, many continue to cause or seek out physical harm to themselves through other behaviours. It is her that we find the links to substance abuse, eating disorders, unsafe sex, reckless driving, poison ingestion, unnecessary surgeries an many others.

Because self-harm is widely misunderstood, judged and stigmatised, many sufferers avoid seeking help.

Because self-harm is a secretive act rather than a cry for attention, many go unnoticed.

And while self-harm is usually seperate from suicide attempts, many cross that line and many are lost.

The natural chemical response to pain is very much like an opiod high and can become addictive. This is where recovery becomes daunting. In the first 12 step fellowships, addiction is broken down into powerlessness and unmanageability. By seeing self-harm in this way and by making that admission, we believe we have a starting point for recovery.

Welcome to your first step.

bottom of page