Why Do People Engage in Self-Harm?

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Why Do People Engage in Self-Harm?

90% of people who self-harm begun in their adolescent years/ Photo By Kertu via Shutterstock


Coping with stress comes in different forms. Some may deal with it better than others. Some people may prefer to unwind by watching their favorite show or hanging out with friends. Others manage their stress in ways that are not so beneficial for the body. One of these coping mechanisms involves self-injury or inflicting pain on the body. When it is hard to express emotions and when feelings become too numb, some people resort to self-harm.

It is reported by Healthy Place that 90% of people who self-harm begun in their adolescent years. It is also revealed to be more prevalent in women, who comprise 60% of those who are prone to self-injury.  Every year in America, there are two million cases of self-harm reported.

Bounce Works states that since 2011, the number of teenage girls who engage in self-harming has increased by 68%.

Individuals who have the tendency to injure themselves have various reasons for doing so. Often, this is a way for them to help them get through an unfavorable experience such as a childhood trauma or experiencing some kind of abuse.


What is Self-harm?

According to Learning Mind, self-harm is defined as “any intentional form of self-inflicted injury”. Self-harm is also known as self-mutilation and self-abuse. It is noted to be a person’s response to life stressors. It can begin in as early as four years old, but most cases of self-harming usually begin in people’s teenage years. Self-harm is said to be often accompanied by eating disorders and mental health disorders.

Forms of Self-harm

Unlike how it is usually portrayed in the media, self-harm does not only involve cutting. There are other forms of self-injurious activities such as burning the skin, overdosing one’s medicine, poisoning oneself by taking in toxic substances, punching or hitting themselves, overeating or starving themselves and excessive exercising. Other ways of self-harming include reopening a wound, attempting to bruise oneself or breaking their bones, some types of hair pulling and inserting objects into their skin.


Reasons for Self-harming

The Refuge indicates the factors that cause a person to want inflict injury on themselves. These are:

1. Learning

Self-harming is said to be either positively or negatively reinforced, the first time it was attempted. If this behavior helps uplift their mood and calms them, these rewards may cause them to repeat it. If they find that doing self-harm reduces their stress, since something negative is removed, this may also make them want to do it even more.

2. Coping Strategy

It can be a person’s way of managing stress. When they are confronted with negative circumstances, they engage in self-harm.

3. Emotional Regulation

It is said to be a form of distraction  from negative emotions or thoughts. Self-harm is said to help wean the mind away from extreme pressure and unbearable feelings.


overdosing is a form of self-harm/ Photo By Darrin Henry via Shutterstock


4. Create Sensation

A person who has just gone through a traumatic experience may struggle with feeling emotions. When that person commits self-harm, it gives off endorphins making them feel incredible pleasure.

5. Control

When an individual feels that they are unable to do anything about the environment they live in or the stressful circumstance that they are facing, self-harm makes them feel that they have regained control in at least a small part of their life.

6. Emotional Expression

There are people who were never able to explore their emotions during their childhood. This caused them to be unable to recognize, name or display their emotions as a child. As a result, they have come to think that it is not right to express their feelings. As they mature, since they do not know how to show those negative emotions, they turn to self-injurious behavior.

7. Punishment

When a person has grown up in a home where they are often condemned or told they are worthless, this leads to feeling ashamed of themselves, feeling inadequate and feeling unimportant. They perceive themselves as flawed and wil try to punish themselves for it through self-harm.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Self-harm?

Depending on the method of self-harm used, individuals may have different symptoms. This is also affected by whether they also engage in substance abuse and whether they are able to learn to apply better ways of coping with tough situations.

A person who engages in self-harm may try to conceal theirs scars from burning or cutting their skin with the clothes that they wear. Wounds may also keep reappearing on their skin which include bruises, scrapes, cuts and abrasions. They may also have broken bones with insufficient reasons as to why they are broke.

These people may also need to be in the presence of a sharp object most of the time. Self-harming people may also make excuses about their injuries and may constantly tell others they were just a product of accidents. They may also have a hard time restraining their impulses.

They may also tend to feel useless, incapable and insignificant. They may also frequently struggle with social interaction which may lead them to isolating themselves.

Deep within them, they may feel an inner hostility. They may also obsess about their self-mutilation a  lot. They also tend to think often about doing self-harm again. After they have harmed themselves, they feel guilt, shame and distress.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may help to treat a person who does self-harm/ Photo By SpeedKingz via Shutterstock


How To Stop Self-Harm

Since self-harm is a response to a stressor, the individual who engages in this activity must be able to point out the stressor. They must also be able to resist the urge to injure themselves.

When they are finally able to identify what triggers these self-harming behaviors, this can make it easier for them to find appropriate coping methods.

There are steps provided to be able to prevent themselves from re-engaging in this activity.

First, they must let the compulsion of wanting to hurt themselves pass. Ten minutes is the advised waiting time.  If they still feel like doing it, they are advised to confide in someone they can rely on. They do not have to reveal that they are self-harming, they just need to talk to them.

They must also find other people to surround themselves with. Since self-harming happens when a person is left alone, they must not isolate themselves. Other people can become a natural hindrance to these behaviors. Rather than cutting, burning or doing other harmful things to their body, it is advised that they draw on the part of the skin which they feel like injuring.

Finally, they are advised to do other things to distract themselves from thoughts of self-harm. Even the mundane chores will do. Some suggested activities include cleaning up their wardrobe ore dying their hair.



There are ways to heal from self-harm. They may undergo therapies such as Individual therapy, Group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Experiential  Therapy. Seeking help from mental health professionals together with their family members may help them completely stop self-injuring behaviors.



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