Get The Facts
About Self Harm

What is it?

Self harming behaviour, also known as Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) is the deliberate inflicting of pain and damage to one’s body, through cutting, scratching, burning, or other forms of hurting oneself.  It also includes internal or emotionally harmful behaviours, such as consuming a toxic amount of substance or deliberately having unsafe sex.

Why do people do it?

Self harm, or NSSI, is a way that people seek relief from strong, painful feelings, such as anger, anxiety, sadness or frustration. While in the moment it can bring relief, the behaviour tends to lead to an increase in feelings of shame and guilt, and it is potentially dangerous to the body.

It is believed that at the root of the behaviour there may be early childhood trauma, it can also be part of a mental health condition, including depression, anxiety, or borderline personality.

Whilst self harming behaviours are most common among adolescents and young adults, younger children and older adults also engage in this behaviour.

What to do?

It is important to understand that engaging in self harming behaviour is communication that the person is in pain; they are struggling and need support. Here are some tips if you are supporting someone who is self harming:

  1. Show compassion to someone who is engaging in self harming behaviour; recognize that this is their attempt to cope with strong and painful feelings.
  2. Be non-judgemental- judging is not helpful, people who self harm are likely already experiencing feelings of shame and guilt and may have tried to keep the behaviour secret.
  3. Be available to talk and stay open, listen, and help identify supports, including counselling, medical, and social supports like friends and family.
  4. Encourage the person to seek professional help and go with them to their appointment if they are anxious

How to Stop myself from Self Harming?

  1. Identify the triggers that lead to the desire to self harm, and where possible avoid the triggers.
  2. Name the feelings that show up with the urges, and learn ways to self-soothe when you are experiencing painful feelings.
  3. Changing your feelings state can be achieved through finding outlets for emotional energy: identify what helps you release negative energy (e.g.: crying, breathing, exercising, yelling, dancing, laughing, cleaning) and what helps bring you calm (hugs, bath, writing thoughts, listening to a favourite playlist, texting a friend, reading).
  4. Learn to let go. Identify what you can and can’t control, and consciously let go of what you can’t control.
  5. Wait it out- give it 20 minutes before engaging in the behaviour. if you give it time, as with any urge, it will pass. Feelings are like waves, they come and go, and thoughts are not facts, just thoughts.
  6. Seek connection- reaching out to someone you care about can be a way to distract you from engaging in self harming behaviour and helping you change your feeling state at the same time.
  7. Seek therapy to learn new ways to manage distress, such as through DBT, or ways to reframe unhelpful or negative thinking, (CBT) and deal with early childhood trauma if it is a root cause.

This article is not to replace seeking the help of a medical or mental health professional.