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Self-harm is also known as self-injury or self-abuse. The behavior is defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one's self. Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include:

  • Cutting or severely scratching your skin
  • Burning yourself
  • Hitting yourself or banging your head

Reasons for self-harm:

  • Letting out feelings you can't put into words
  • Releasing the pain you feel inside
  • Helping you feel in control
  • Distracting you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
  • Relieving guilt and punishing yourself
  • Making you feel alive, or simply feel something, instead of feeling numb

The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn't last very long. It's like slapping on a band-aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn't fix the underlying issue. It also creates its own problems.

  • The relief is short lived, and quickly followed by other feelings like shame and guilt. It keeps you from learning better ways of feeling better.
  • Keeping the secret of self-harm from friends and family members may cause isolation.
  • You can hurt yourself badly, even if you don't mean to. You may not realize how deeply you've cut.
  • If you don't learn other ways to deal with emotional pain, it puts you at risk for bigger problems down the line, including major depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
  • Self-harm can become addictive. It may start off as something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming is controlling you. It often turns into a compulsive behavior that seems impossible to stop.

Warning signs that a family member or friend is self-harming:

  • Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
  • Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, glass shards, or bottle caps, in the person's belongings.
  • Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
  • Needing to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
  • Isolation and irritability.

Professional treatment for self-harm

You may need the help and support of a trained professional as you work to overcome self-harm, so consider talking to a therapist. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.

S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) – Organization dedicated to helping people who self-harm. Includes treatment referrals, recovery information, and an information helpline: 1-800-366-8288. (S.A.F.E. Alternatives)