Self Harm

"I hurt myself to stop the pain."


Are My Feelings Normal?

Many of us can feel upset, stressed out, or overwhelmed when life gets difficult or when people hurt us. These feelings are normal but it is what we do with our feelings that can sometimes hurt ourselves or others. Self-harm, or hurting yourself on purpose, can be a way that some people try to deal with difficult feelings or show their pain.


Should I be Worried?

People who self-harm typically cut  their skin (e.g. with a blade, knife or sharp object, usually on hidden areas like their arms, legs or stomach), but may also do things like scratching, burning, pulling out hair, or hitting themselves, as a way to express or relieve emotional pain. If you are one of these people, you may find yourself more likely to self-harm after an overwhelming or upsetting experience, or series of experiences.


If you are self-harming, you might be doing this so that you can:

  • Deal with uncomfortable or unwanted or overwhelming feelings like anxiety, stress, anger or sadness/depression
  • Cope with grief, loss, violence, abuse, or chronic illness
  • Punish yourself , or express feelings of self-hatred, self-anger, or failure
  • Turn your emotional pain into physical pain
  • Feel “real”, alive, or to cope with feelings of emptiness or numbness
  • Regain control over your body
  • Just feel better and to calm intense emotions


People who self-harm are not crazy and usually are not trying to kill themselves; they are just looking for a way to deal with severe emotional pain. If you self-harm, it’s possible that you never learned how to identify or express difficult feelings in a healthy way. Acts of self-harm are sometimes done on impulse, and sometimes they’re planned. People who self-harm have different experiences of it: some say that don’t feel pain when they hurt themselves; some say that they do it to feel physical pain instead of the emotional pain; some people even feel a rush, sense of relief, or “high” when they self-harm. Most people who self-harm say that they feel some relief and calm after self-harming, but unfortunately this does not last long and can cause the behavior to increase or become worse.


It is important to know that self-harm is not a healthy way to cope and can turn into a physically dangerous habit. If you are experiencing strong emotions which lead to self harm, it is important to reach out for support from your parent, your doctor, your school social worker or a counselor or therapist. Although you may be embarrassed about your self-harm behavior and not want other people to know, you should know that you are not alone and that there are people who understand this problem and can help.


Tips for Prevention and Wellness 


How do I stop hurting myself in the moment?

It's important to find ways to comfort, distract, or focus yourself when you feel like self-harming. Make a list of non-harmful things that help you feel better and more relaxed, like playing a sport, walking, writing, meditating, drawing, or playing music. Keep this list where you can see it so when you feel like hurting yourself you will have other options and you can choose to do something else. If you have been self-harming frequently or for a long time, it will take some time to get out of the habit of this, so you may have to try some “substitute behaviors in the beginning to help you get through the rough spots without hurting yourself.


Here are some substitute behaviors that you can use while trying to get out of the habit of self-harm:

  • Wear a rubber band around your wrist and “snap” it when you have the urge
  • Draw on yourself with washable red marker instead of cutting
  • Hold ice cubes in your hand: you will get an uncomfortable feeling that simulates pain but does not hurt you
  • Hit or punch a pillow
  • Scribble or scratch on paper or carve on a piece of wood

Here are some ways to use up nervous energy:

  • Go for a long walk or run
  • Dance to loud music
  • Shoot hoops or kick a ball around
  • Go to the gym
  • Clean or organize your room


Here are some ways to relax and de-stress:

  • Take a bath or a hot shower
  • Listen to music
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to a friend
  • Read a good book

Many teens find that keeping busy and spending time with good friends and family helps the most.


How can I recover from self-harm?

Self-harm is a symptom of deeper emotional pain. Getting counseling can help you better understand your feelings and your life situation. A counselor or therapist can help you figure out why you hurt yourself, what situations put you at risk, and what steps you can take to learn healthier ways to deal with intense emotions. If you are also dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, a therapist can help with these too. Sometimes a healthcare provider may recommend medication as part of your overall plan for recovering from self-harm.


Making the decision to stop hurting yourself is a big first step. Remember that learning healthier ways to handle intense feelings will take time. The key to recovering is to get support from people who care about you, and treatment from an experienced therapist or counselor.


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