Mental health

Self harm – friend or foe?

(TW) Some people may find the content of this blog upsetting and/or triggering
Self harm is a controversial subject and I’m hoping that being open will break down some of the stigma and misunderstanding.
As a fairly intelligent rational human being, I would frequently step back from my self harm behaviour and think “what the heck am I doing?!”. So, why, when in a highly emotional state did reasoning fly out the window and it become the “only thing that works”?

I think self harm is primarily about 2 things:

  • Transferring emotional/mental pain into physical pain
  • A lack of compassion/respect for yourself

I first discovered self harm as a teen when I found the world an overwhelming place. It was very superficial at first but I learnt that it helped to ease the discomfort I was feeling. I’m not sure what led me to think that it might work and to try it. I can speculate that it was linked to the natural occurrence that when we physically injure ourselves (by accident), after the initial pain, a wave of endorphins bring a sense of calm and an ability to cope with the injury. It therefore makes sense that, to produce that sense of calm and empowerment (to cope with the situation) I turned to harming myself deliberately to achieve the same effect.

Self harm is when someone intentional injures themselves. Examples include cutting, burning, hitting and poisoning. It could also be said that alcohol and drug taking as well as eating disorders bare similarities to self harm. For me, cutting was a release, I did not do it for attention, nor did I do it because I particularly wanted to. At the time it felt like I had no option.

Depression is a sinister illness that ultimately tells you that suicide is a valid option, in fact, an appropriate reaction to the given circumstances. When overwhelmed by the world and overwhelmed by these thoughts and feelings, it’s natural to look for a way out. 1 option is to follow through with a suicidal act, but if part of you is still thinking rationally, another way out is to find a way to relieve these feelings. For me, I genuinely believe, harming myself (without suicidal intent) kept me alive.

Although it kept me alive it actually represented the depths to which my self esteem had sunk. Every time, I knew I was adding to my scars, I knew I was putting myself at risk of infection etc but I cared so little about myself and my body, this was irrelevant. It provided the relief I needed but after the event I would feel guilty and angry. Although, part of me also gained something from the care I needed to give myself.

Unfortunately, for a period, for me, self harm became a habit. Instead of considering what options I had, I would turn to it like an old friend. It had worked in the past, why would I not continue?! It gave me what I needed, it relieved the pressure in my head, gave me a way to express myself. But, although a friend in the short term, ultimately, longer term it is not a helpful way to deal with feelings.

Self harm is often a way to manage our emotions on our own. Few people who self harm reach out for help and it is certainly not a way to deliberately manipulate or gain attention. The way out of self harm is to realise we are not alone. Other people can help us to manage the distress we’re feeling.

I had to learn that it was ok to feel bad. Anxiety and anger are acceptable, distress is bearable and instead of punishing myself I needed to be kind to myself. This took a long time, and I “gave up” self harm a number of times. Because self harm works as a coping technique, I was lured back many times. I’ve spent many hours distracting myself with numerous activities, desperately trying not to self harm. There is no one technique I’d advocate but overall most important factors are:

  • Express emotional pain more helpfully – sometimes this involves expressing it to either privately or to someone else, either verbally or written down. Using words is important but sometimes just venting it is important, maybe through exercise (moderate) or art, for example.
  • Learning self compassion is key. I have always known it’s right to be kind, caring sympathetic and show sensitivity to other people but I had to learn to treat myself in the same way. This does not mean I now love myself in an arrogant way, I just respect myself and believe I do not need to punish myself for being human.

I know it is hard to watch a loved one self harm, I am saddened when I hear someone uses self harm as a coping technique. But I understand how and why people do it. However, I am proof that there is a way out.

I am very sad to have so many scars but they represent a very difficult time in my life that has made me the person I am today.
For more information or if you need to talk to someone, please contact:

Or contact your GP and support team. Please do not suffer in silence.


01/07/2016 at 14:11

Thanks for sharing that. I totally agree with this:
“I think self harm is primarily about 2 things:
•Transferring emotional/mental pain into physical pain
•A lack of compassion/respect for yourself”

01/07/2016 at 14:53

Some great points in this post and can relate to quite a bit. I think another thing self-harm was about for me was self-punishment. I felt like I deserved it and felt better to get what I deserved.
I had to also learn that it’s okay to feel pain and emotions like anger. And I think the best thing that helped me was expressing my emotion creatively and sharing it with others which took away the shame. I find that doing these things stops the pain and negative emotions from destroying me, and instead I get to use them in a helpful way.
Thanks heaps for sharing!

01/07/2016 at 19:33

I think you are right about the aftermath. I didn’t know that, but I know it would make me feel calmer after I cut myself and that might be why.
Thank you for posting.

03/07/2016 at 08:46

I think self-harm is underrated. It’s been a long time since I did it, but I’ll do it again when I have to.
What’s wrong with that? It’s just a few scratches on the screen. It doesn’t necessarily infect me or cause permanent damage.
I also don’t like the assumption that suicide is irrational. Suicide is extremely rational. If you don’t like living, you stop. If you don’t like kool-aid, you don’t drink it

    03/07/2016 at 11:17

    If self harming doesn’t cause permanent damage one might say there is no problem with it but unfortunately it usually does cause permanent damage and I would therefore hope individuals find other ways of coping.
    I agree regarding suicide, hence in my blog writing “an appropriate reaction to the given circumstances”. Unfortunately, most of (but not all of) the time the given circumstances involve the brain being affected by an illness and hence, not able to process input accurately. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary circumstances and therefore a disproportionate reaction.

05/08/2016 at 04:03

I just posted a new blog about cutting. .. love this, I agree with what you’re saying.

21/02/2017 at 06:52

Firstly, I would like to thank you, as I myself am a prey to the temporary peace after self-harm. This blog really made me realise how every now and then I am losing my self esteem by harming myself, instead of being there for myself during times of distress. And that is when I need MYSELF the most. After reading this blog, I feel that maybe, just maybe, expressing my sorrows through words in a diary would make me feel more important, than bruising my fists by punching on the walls, or filling my arms with nasty scars. This post did inspire me a lot.

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