Self-harm

Explains self-harm, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

My body comes with a trigger warning

Seaneen blogs about living with the scars of self-harm.

Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan
Posted on 23/09/2015

...but you look fine to me?

Susanna talks about the difficulties of coping with mental health problems you can see, and those you can't.

Susanna
Posted on 20/10/2014

How going to A&E helped me

Caroline blogs about how a visit to A&E helped her to realise she needed help.

Caroline
Posted on 27/11/2013

How can I help myself in the future?

There are a number of ways to help yourself in the long term. They include a deeper exploration of the reasons why you self-harm, to help you find alternatives:

Accept your feelings

If you have been shamed for your feelings, or learnt to shut them down for any other reason, it is very brave to start to face them once more. It can feel very frightening to allow yourself to experience difficult emotions again, and it is important to go very slowly. Perhaps include tools like mindfulness or keep a journal to support and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

  • Try some of the online tools, books and worksheets for understanding emotions (the Self-injury Support website has resources on dealing with feelings).
  • Work alongside a therapist who you trust, to have a positive experience of your feelings being accepted and validated (see our resource on talking treatments).
  • Try the mindfulness technique of noticing and naming feelings as you become aware of them.

I was able to start channelling my feelings into creativity. This gave me an outlet to build a better relationship with myself, and I was able to occupy my hands when feeling really bad until the urge to self-harm had subsided.

Build your self-esteem

Learning to value yourself and perceive yourself positively makes a big difference to your experience in life.

  • Practice speaking and thinking more kindly about yourself, in the same way as you would about a loved one.
  • Replace repetitive mental urges to hurt yourself with empowered thoughts – for example, 'Even though I feel like cutting, I am going to find another way to express how upset I feel.'
  • Regularly write down three things you appreciate about yourself, no matter how small.
  • Learn to be assertive by expressing boundaries of what does and doesn't feel right for you in your life.
  • Take control of your decisions. Remind yourself that you have responsibility for the choices you make in life, and choose things that feel supportive and nourishing for you.

See How to increase your self-esteem for more suggestions.

Look after your general wellbeing

Taking care of your health on all levels can help you feel a lot better about yourself.

  • Doing regular physical activity can boost your mood and reduce stress.
  • Eating regular meals with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can also help with how you feel (see Food and mood).
  • Making sure you get enough sleep helps you feel better and more able to cope (see Sleep problems).
  • Doing something creative can help you express your feelings. For example, write a song, story or blog, paint, draw or use clay.
  • Spending time every week doing things that you enjoy, such as seeing friends or going for a walk, is also important. Try to make time to do this, no matter what else is going on.

Understand your self-harm in more detail

Letting go of self-harm can feel like a really big decision that takes time to make. It can be very helpful to understand your relationship to it in more depth, so that you can put things in place to support the process. The more you understand about why you hurt yourself, and the function that self-harm has had for you, the better equipped you will be to make changes and put effective alternatives in place.

The following questions can help you begin the process of understanding your self harm:

  • How do you feel before and after you hurt yourself?
  • What was the reason why you hurt yourself the first time?
  • What does self-harm give you now?
  • What are the situations where you are most likely to want to hurt yourself?
  • What are your fears about living without self-harm?
  • What would you miss about self-harm?
  • What else would be useful to understand about your self-harm?

I think the best way to stop self-harm is to focus on the underlying issues which trigger you to do it. If you work on these issues, then the self-harm will stop naturally.

For more guidance on supporting yourself to stop self-harming see Self-injury Support's information resources, Lifesigns information on alternatives and the Harmless guide to working through self-harm.

Reach out for support

Reaching out can feel hard, especially if you worry that people will judge you or you believe other people might not want to help you. Remind yourself that everyone needs support at different times, and that it is OK to ask for help.

When you are ready to reach out, choose someone who you trust to talk to about how you are feeling. This could be a friend, family member, counsellor or health professional (see the Treatment and support section for more information). Remember that you are in control of what you say, and you don't have to say anything that you're not ready to share yet.

You may also find it helpful to write a list of all the people, organisations and websites that you can go to for help when you are finding things difficult. This will remind you that you are not alone, and where you can get help. See Useful contacts for some suggestions.

Having a therapist who would never judge and remained constant and calm made a huge difference in me being able to open up.

There is no magic solution or quick fix for self-harm, and making changes can take time and involve periods of difficulty. It is common to make some progress and then get back into old behaviours again. If this happens to you, remind yourself that it's not failing – it is simply part of the process.


This information was published in October 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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