Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves, on purpose, as a way of coping with or releasing, strong emotions that feel overwhelming.

People self-harm in different ways – this can include:

  • cutting, often to the arms
  • burning, sometimes with cigarettes
  • scratching or biting
  • punching and hitting
  • pulling out hair or eyelashes
  • head banging
  • sniffing or swallowing harmful or toxic substances
  • over-eating, under-eating or exercising too much
  • taking overdoses of medication
  • emotional harm such as obsessive negative thinking
  • behaving in other ways that puts them in danger such as risky behaviour

It’s possible for both men and women and all kinds of people with different backgrounds, experiences and ways of life to self-harm at times. The reasons why people self-harm are not always understood and can be different from person to person. It can be a way of:

  • feeling in control, when life around you feels out of control
  • releasing built up pressures or feelings of anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt or worthlessness
  • expressing how you’re feeling on the inside, on the outside
  • punishing yourself and dealing with feelings of low self-esteem
  • getting relief from feeling great upset about something that is happening now or an experience in the past

Some people may self-harm every day while other people hurt themselves from time to time when experiencing extreme levels of distress or pressure.

Self-harm often starts in adolescence, the time when we move from being a child to an adult. This is the stage in our lives when we develop:

  • a sense of identity and self-worth and form thoughts and opinions about who we are
  • our own ways of managing or coping with distress and strong emotions

The way these develop can often be shaped by difficult experiences and whether we are made to feel secure, valuable and supported by the people around us.