Why Some People Self Harm


Why Some People Self Harm

Why Some People Self Harm

Why would some people self harm? What do they actually do? What would they be thinking or feeling or what would drive them to do such  things? Firstly, some different forms of self-harm include:

  1. Hair-pulling, skin-picking.
  2. Burning, cutting, head-banging.
  3. Mutilation as in amputation of parts of the body (Mayo Clinic, 2017/Ashby Allan Institute 2005)

Why do some people harm themselves?

There are many reasons why some people self-harm. There is no one set reason why some people self-harm. It is a complex issue and generally speaking a person is often in very deep emotional pain and turmoil when they engage in self-harming behaviour. Well then, what may lead a person to self-harm? There may be similar factors involved as to what may lead a person to contemplate ending his or her life, but a distinct difference is that there is no genuine intent to die with self-harming behaviours. Some factors that may be involved in a person contemplating ending their life, along with what may lead a person to self-harm include bereavement and worries about one’s sexuality. For information about warning signs associated with suicide, please click here.

There are many factors or influences as to why some people self-harm and theses include:

* Bereavement, or concerns, confusion and the like about one’s sexuality (as mentioned above).

* Poor self-esteem, self-concept, or self-image.

* Chronic feelings of guilt and/or anxiety.

* Depression.

* Being bullied or discriminated against.

* Relationship problems (including domestic violence) or peer problems.

* Unwanted pregnancies.

* Pressures from work or financial problems/stress.

* Family dysfunction.

* Issues relating to drugs and alcohol.

* A lack of basic human needs such as receiving love from parents or caregivers.

* Any form of abuse including emotional abuse.

Why Some People Self Harm

Don’t despair. the struggles of the present may be laying a foundation for a happier tomorrow.

Some psychological motivations that may contribute to self-harming behaviour are:

* To deflect attention or pain away from other issues that are too painful to confront.

* To escape feelings of emptiness or feeling ‘unreal’, or to escape feelings of numbness.

* To ease tension.

* Relief (self-harm actually tends to lower levels of emotional and physiological arousal or pain). Relief can include relief of anger.

* To get biochemical relief.

* To communicate with others (expressing their intense emotional pain), or expressing a need for help/support.

* To obtain a feeling of euphoria.

* To punish oneself for being ‘bad’. (This was one of my main reasons for my self-harming behaviour several years ago).

(A component can also be that one may wish to validate their emotional pain and distress, and the physical wounds of self-harming behaviour can serve as a type of evidence that the person’s feelings are genuine, intense, and painful. This was one of several distinct reasons why I engaged in some pretty serious self-harming behaviour; to validate to myself that I was in emotional turmoil, and that it was like saying “see, I AM in emotional pain, it IS real, and I don’t know what else to do. Remember that a person’s behaviour or actions in self-harming seem to make sense to them at the time. It may not make sense to others, but it can make sense to the person doing it [cutting, burning] etc.).

Above, are some factors that may contribute to why some people self-harm. However, one person may have depression, or problems with drugs and alcohol, or perhaps experience severe emotion pain in the grief and loss stages of bereavement, yet never self-harm. Another person under these (or similar) circumstances may actually progress to self-harming behaviour .Why? Why does one person resort to self-harm and another does not? To put it simply, it is often related to one’s coping ability in relation to stressors in life, or unresolved internal conflict. And, this does not imply that one’s coping ability related to the factors listed above (including psychological influences) will be the only factors in self-harming behaviour, as there may also tend to be other factors involved with some people such as biological or psycho-neurological components which includes brain chemistry and serotonin. A more extensive answer to why some people engage in self-harming behaviour and why others do not is that those who self harm may possess a lack of coping ability possibly including or related to the lack of ability to tolerate painful emotions, and also a lack of ability to maintain a sense of self-worth along with a lack of ability to maintain a feeling of connection or value to others. For some people, self-harming can provide quick relief of physiological tension (self-harming can actually have an effect of calming the body; the psycho-physiological tension is reduced). So, the answer for the person due to a lack of ability to cope is to self-harm.

There is no such disorder or psychiatric complaint listed in the DSM5 such as ‘self-harming disorder’. Rather, as self-harming tends not to be an actual disorder in itself, self-harming behaviours are often manifestations from factors such as what are listed above (for some people).

Summary of why some people self harm:

* There are various forms of self-harm, with the most serious being completed or attempted amputation of parts of the body.

* A person is often in very deep emotional pain and turmoil when they engage in self-harming behaviour.

* There are many factors or influences as to what may lead a person to self-harm including poor self-esteem, feelings of guilt, and depression.

* Other factors include psychological motivations such as to validate one’s emotional pain and distress.

* There may also be other factors involved with some people as to why they self-harm such as biological or psycho-neurological components which includes brain chemistry and serotonin.

Self-harming is a very complex issue, and remember that you may see somebody hurting themselves and wonder WHY, yet to them it makes sense at the time. I have personally come through some very serious self-harming issues, and it seemed to make sense to me at the time. I never have these thoughts now (self-harming), or not that I am consciously aware of anyway. If you are a carer or somebody who is concerned about another person’s self-harming behaviour, be patient, they may well stop it when they are ready. Finally, a recommended resource is YOUR HEALTH IN MIND. This is a site that is specifically for the community, but also where you can access information on where to find help in your local area.

Thank you kindly for visiting Beyond My Label.

Paul Inglis.

Why Some People Self Harm



Ashby Allan Institute, Brisbane, Australia, 2005.

Mayo Clinic. (2017). Self injury/cutting. Retrieved 19/10/2018. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/self-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20350950

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