For many, self-harm is a behaviour that comes from an emotional stress, be it anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief or something else. Self-harm may be the physical response to a difficult emotion in a time of crisis, and can create a sense of relief, control or peace in place of the stress. Of course, this ‘relief’ is only momentary and doesn’t address the underlying issues, meaning another crisis soon emerges. When self-harm becomes the default way to cope, a pattern of destructive behaviours soon develops, which can be both addictive and habitual.
It’s not necessarily helpful to list the different ways people may self-harm. Cutting is what everyone automatically thinks of, but it’s important to acknowledge the fact that self-harm will look different for everyone, and no one’s experiences should be given more or less respect based on how they self-harm. Equally, not all self-harm behaviours leave visible injuries, or those needing medical attention, so again – don’t judge. Whilst it’s important to stay safe, self-harm is actually more about how someone feels rather than what they do.
Self-harm is often incredibly secretive, with some people able to conceal it for many years from close friends and family. Part of the secrecy is because of shame, and a fear of being judged by others, coupled with an anxiety of being made to stop and of losing control if loved ones find out and try to intervene. For many, the thought of recovery is terrifying, not because they don’t want to get better, but because of what may need to be dealt with along the way.