Understanding Self-harm – 24 Top Self-Help Tips

In this blog, I discuss self-harm and share different ways of how to help yourself.

The term Self-harm is used when someone damages or harms their body intentionally. You may have heard some refer to it as deliberated self-injury. The injury or harm caused to self (self-harm) is a way of dealing with painful and difficult memories and feelings or overwhelming situations and experiences. Most importantly, those who self-harm do so without wanting to die, although many may be experiencing suicidal thoughts as well.

Firstly, some people may only harm themselves only when experiencing emotional distress. And some people do so several times a day. And to others, the behavior of self-harming may become addictive.

From both my clinical experience and speaking to people with lived experiences of self-harm, it is clear there is a difference between acts of self-harm and suicidal acts. People who self-harm often don’t intend it to be fatal although more than half of the people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.

Although the most common methods of self-harm are for example cutting and deliberately overdosing on medication, there are several other examples of methods of self-harm listed below.

Some of the different methods of self-harming.

Smoking / Drinking

Exercising too much / working too hard

Burning self

Banging head / Hair pulling

Plucking/scratching skin/ Interfering with wound healing

Punching self / Biting self

Shallowing sharp objects or harmful substances

Refusing to take medications

Casual sex

Who self-harms?

Anyone can self-harm regardless of age, education, ethnicity, gender, or religion although it’s common and tends to begin during adolescence disappearing during the thirties although not always. That’s why it can be common amongst university students. That’s not to say it cannot start later in life because some people begin self-harming following difficult life events like a relationship breakdown, bereavement, bullying, etc.  

Why do people self-harm?

There are several reasons but usually, people use self-harm as a coping mechanism to continue to live rather than end their life.

For many students, self-harm is a way to:

Alleviate intense emotional pain or distress, or overwhelming negative feelings, thoughts, or memories.

Use as a punishment (after thinking you’ve hurt someone)

Communicate (show others how bad they feel)

Stop numbness or dissociation (state of being disconnected)

Some conditions like depression, bipolar, and unstable personality disorder are associated with self-harm.

To feel in control

For escapism (from emptiness, shame, guilt)

To get an adrenal rush

Many people who self-harm actually want to stop – why?

It’s upsetting to their loved ones

It’s painful and hurts sometimes

The scars only remind them of those very things they’re trying to escape.

People look at them negatively due to the scars

How can you help yourself?

If the self-harming is a result of an abusive situation (home, relationship) it will be difficult to stop. Think of a plan for how to change that situation.

Try learning to describe how you feel in words or even in art.

Keep a diary – to help you understand it and yourself better e.g., patterns and triggers. This may help you learn to avoid or manage the triggers.

Try to show kindness and empathy to yourself

Do you blame yourself for everything?

Imagine if your best friend told you a story identical to your own, would you blame them for what happened to them? If not, then why continue to blame yourself because of what happened to you? Try being compassionate and understanding to yourself. Talking therapy will help you learn this.

Try short-term distraction techniques – delay it by going for a shop run, or house chores.

Get creative – painting, writing, try cooking a new recipe.

Hang out with a friend/family/go out in public – most people self-harm when alone.

Try gaming on your phone, puzzles, calling someone, reading a book

Try the 10-minute tactic for example, delay the act for 10 mins, keep busy, and when time is up, think can I wait another 10 mins?

Harm minimization using strong sensations – rubber band snapping, squeezing an ice block in your hands, a cold shower, eating hot chilies.

Be active – jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing

Call someone you trust

Keep away from things you use to self-harm

The urge usually comes in waves- surf the urge, remember the urge reduces with time

Journaling is a good intervention for many

If you must self-harm remember

Don’t share blades or whatever instrument you use

Avoid deep cuts

Aim to reduce the number of times

Learn to clean and dress the wound to avoid infections

Recognize how difficult it is and that you will need support.

Speak to your GP or Healthcare professional – ask to be referred for Talking Therapy – Dialect Behavioral Therapy is usually appropriate for this.

Last thoughts

To sum it up , it is common for many people who present to hospital after self-harming to meet the criteria for depression. However, not all people who self-harm contemplate suicide or have a mental health problem, self-harm is often a good indicator that they may be experiencing psychological distress.

There is a lot of support available

For NHS Talking Therapies Click Here – Search  for free non-urgent NHS psychological therapies services near you

Click Here for The Listening place – Free support for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

For Survivors of bereavement by Suicide Click Here

 Click Here for National Self Harm Network – Online crisis support, information and resources, advice, discussions, and distractions.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Self-harm – 24 Top Self-Help Tips”

  1. Thank you for writing about such an important subject. A lot of university students all over the world participate in some form of self-harm, which is not good. Some don’t even realize it.

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