9 Reasons For Self-harm: Why Do People Start Harming Themselves?

Why do people self-harm? What does self-harm involve? Self-injury is an impulsive response that helps release discomfort through pain. Find out the reason.

Why are self-harm committed?

When we see cuts on the arm or cuts on the skin on a family member, friend or loved one, it is normal for us to wonder what could have triggered them. In many cases, these types of cuts on the legs and arms anywhere on the body, if they happen frequently and the person tries to cover them, this can be a clear sign that there is a serious problem behind them. But why do people start to self-harm ?

What is self-harm?

The self harm They are damages that the person voluntarily causes to their body without the intention of committing suicide. It is usually a compulsive act that you have no control over and that is difficult to stop. Unlike the suicidal act, pain and suffering are sought through self-injury. Many people do not understand this type of behavior, and it is logical that it is not socially accepted since it apparently makes no sense to cause harm to oneself like this just because. However, self-harm has a reason for being associated with a psychological problem.

Surely you or a family member or friend have bitten your nails at some point. You don’t stop when they are short but you usually continue until you can’t bite any more and you have a little stump left. You can get bloody and then you have a hard time picking up objects because of how short your grip is. Furthermore, nail biting is often accompanied by random chewing of skin and/or hangnails. It hurts to take them off and you know it’s not good but you can’t stop.

On other occasions what happens is that you see a pimple and you have to remove it even though you know you can’t do it because there is nothing inside. You squeeze and squeeze until you get a bloody wound and then it’s hard for you to heal because the first time you see a scab you have to tear it off. Isn’t this so strange? Well, it doesn’t stop being a self harm (to a lesser extent, but a self-harm nonetheless).

The people who self-harm Many times they don’t come to therapy because they are ashamed of what they do and hide it. Those who come to therapy do so because self-harm is done too frequently or it interferes with their life in a significant way. The most common self-harm is: cutting the skin, pricking needles, burning, hitting the head, biting the lips or fingers, pinching or pressing the eyes.

Why do self-harm appear?

In many cases, the self harm They are a form of self-harm that is used to calm a negative emotion, thought or sensation. According to psychologists, adults, children and adolescents who self-harm usually do so for the following reasons.

  1. Anxiety: When we are nervous we need to do something (move our legs, walk, hold something with our hands, eat…). This type of behavior does not harm us, but sometimes people resort to self-harm to release anxiety. When a person inflicts harm on themselves, the brain relaxes because they stop thinking about the worry or what is stressing them out. When we feel pain, thoughts are blocked, the brain focuses on that pain and therefore, worries temporarily disappear. In the same way, when we feel emotions that overwhelm us such as sadness, anger or boredom, causing pain causes us to stop feeling those emotions. On the other hand, when the pain disappears, the feeling is relaxation and calm, so many people when they self-harm They seek that final feeling of liberation and relaxation. In these cases, people who self-harm do so to calm the different symptoms of anxiety.
  2. Loneliness and emptiness: It would be the opposite case of feeling emotions excessively. Some people feel such a significant emptiness, an absence of emotions, they feel flattened, “I neither feel nor suffer,” that they self-harm to be able to feel pain and at least feel something, that they are still human and not robots or to feel alive. In this way, self-harm provides them with relief from the emptiness and loneliness they may be suffering at this moment. Reasons for self-harm
  3. Culpability: Sometimes we feel guilty about something we have done/said or have not done/said. They can be past aspects or dynamics that repeat themselves. Likewise, we may feel inadequate, inadequate, or simply unworthy of well-being. In these cases, guilt can generate a motive to access self-harm and be able to rest from the negative thoughts that arise around it. The origin of this is usually low self-esteem and as a consequence, one may resort to self harm as a form of punishment. An example: a girl with anorexia cuts her belly every time she eats something that she considers excessive. Another example: hitting her head every time she remembers the episode of sexual abuse that she suffered in childhood and that although she knew that what she was doing was wrong, she did not stop the abuser. Or also: compulsively scratching every time someone remembers that she was not able to say goodbye to her cancer-stricken father when she knew it would be her last chance to see him alive.
  4. Draw attention: Although the majority of people who self-harm They do not do it for this reason, there are those who do it as a way to feel cared for and protected. If someone self-harms, the natural response of the loved one is to ask him or her, be more on top of him or her and protect him or her so that he or she does not do it again. When someone does it to get attention, they usually do it with very visible and striking things and many times they threaten to self-harm if enough attention is not paid to it or to obtain some benefit. An example: “if you go to dinner with your friends, you already know that I will be alone and hurt myself.” This type of self-harm tends to arise more often in cases of self-harm in adolescents.
  5. Suicide attempts: Someone who is thinking about suicide normally wants to do it in the way that causes the least possible pain and therefore, does not usually self-harm However, sometimes these people can do a “rehearsal” of what the act itself will be, although with less intensity (less deep cuts for example or less copious intake of pills) to observe themselves, see if they would be able to carry it out. or to know what it feels like.
  6. To feel control over yourself: Sometimes life circumstances make us feel like we have no control over our lives and what surrounds us. It is for this reason that sometimes someone can resort to self harm, as a way to control something in your life. “If I can’t stop drinking, at least I can control what’s burning my arm.”
  7. Express pain: In some cases, people agree to undergo cuts on the arm, cuts on the legs or any type of cuts on the skin as a way to express your emotions. This happens when there are cases in which people do not know how to communicate what they feel inside to others and because of this, they resort to self-harm. This type of self-harm It can appear due to problems associated with bullying or moving, a bad family environment or arguments or problems with friends.
  8. Depression and low self-esteem: The self-harm in adolescents and adults They may appear as a way to ‘solve’ depression or a situation in which the person’s self-esteem is below zero. In these cases, the person relieves their frustration or self-hatred through any of the forms of self-harm.
  9. Alcohol and drugs: Finally, another of the factors that can trigger a person to choose to harm themselves is precisely alcoholism or drug addiction. In many situations, those who go to self-harm For this reason, they go to this event to try to solve the frustration of not getting the drug itself or the effects behind these addictions.
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What can I do to stop self-harming?

All the causes mentioned above have a common factor: when you feel pain, endorphins are released (happiness hormone) and therefore, after getting hurt the person feels a certain pleasure or temporary well-being This sensation makes the person forced to repeat the act every time they find themselves in a similar situation, since they have no other resources to cope and thus a routine or “mania” is generated that is difficult to eliminate. Therefore, psychologists recommend that to alleviate all forms of self-harm, people can do the following.

  • Injures an object: As long as you have trouble managing self-harm in any other way, buy playdough or clay. Leave it in a visible place and when you have the urge to self-harm, build a sculpture of yourself with it and put some object or piece of clothing of yours on it. Instead of injuring yourself, do voodoo with your doll Injure him and repeat the phrase, I don’t need to injure myself anymore, I’ve already done it.
  • Think about postponing it: If the first advice does not relieve the discomfort, try postpone self-harm 30 minutes. Since it is an impulsive response, if you manage to wait, you may not feel like doing it later. In this way, when you have waited that time, it is very likely that you will no longer feel like doing one of these self-harming behaviors.
  • Write a diary: The first step to eliminate self-harm is to realize what causes it. Each self-injury can have a different cause and depending on the moment it can be for one reason or another. make a small self-harm diary; Every time you self-harm, write down what you were thinking and feeling before the act. Sometimes they are short, fleeting phrases or images that come in a second. Pay attention to these signs and be aware of what causes thoughts related to things to begin. hurting Example: before cutting off my arm I was watching a series, I compared myself to the protagonist who is a successful person and I thought “I’m useless, I’ll never amount to anything.”
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How to stop self-harm?

  • Face negative thoughts: The next step is to refute those negative thoughts related to injure or hit oneself Following the example: “just because I haven’t passed the exams for a teacher doesn’t make me useless, I know how to do many things well and I can take the exam again. If I don’t succeed, I will look for a solution but that doesn’t make me useless.”
  • Write or draw what you feel: Another resource that you can use to combat any of the self-harming behaviors It is writing what you feel, the emotions you experience, the worries you have or draw and paint that discomfort on the page. Normally when we express what we feel in writing, the discomfort is released. If that’s not enough, grab a cushion and hit the couch with it while shouting what you feel. Release the rage you have inside. Take out your frustration and don’t stop hitting until you feel tired or your arms shake. Then grab a ball, go out into the street and hit that ball as hard as you can over and over again until you can’t take it anymore. Once the anger or tension is relieved, look for alternative resources to self harm: Release emotion in a “productive” way such as doing physical exercise, take a hot and cold shower, do relaxation exercises, do something you like and are good at, etc. It’s about replacing self-harm with something that makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Ask for help: The next step is to talk to someone you trust about what’s happening to you. Ask for help, explain to someone you know who can be understanding and understand you. Get off your chest and explain your hypotheses to a certain extent. the reason for self-harm Then ask for professional help. Normally this type of behavior is not resolved by oneself.
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What can I do if I know someone is self-harming?

Many times people who surround themselves with someone who self-harms do not know how to manage it. Either you are made to feel guilty or you avoid the topic completely. Other times you feel a certain fear of the person, either that they will do more harm by talking to them or that they will cause harm to you. Remember that whoever self-harms is not dangerous he simply doesn’t know how to manage his emotions any other way.

It will help you a lot to talk to people who have started self-harm ; Listen to him, put yourself in his place and try to understand why he does it. On the other hand, try to convince him to go to a specialist to help him control his impulses (psychologist and/or psychiatrist), suggest resources that you think can help him and tell him to call you whenever he needs it. Sometimes the best help is a shoulder to cry on.