Why do people self harm?

Common reasons

Self harm can have many different reasons and motives behind it. Here are some of the most common:

  • To cope with overwhelming negative emotions (sadness, anxiety, emotional numbness…)
  • To punish themselves
  • To feel in control
  • To communicate their pain
  • To alleviate numbness
  • To ground themselves
  • To distract themselves from other issues
  • To get a sense of purification or cleanse

The person that is self harming might not know or be able to express why they self harm. We might be too confused to explain it to you.

Someone’s motivation to self harm might quickly change or can be multiple reasons combined together.

Why self harm works

The body has its own mechanisms to deal with getting injured. Physical pain makes the body release a hormone called endorphin that has mood-boosting and pain-killing effects. This is what creates the sense of comfort and relief that self harmers are seeking. However, these feelings don’t last long, which is why this is not an effective coping skill.

When it becomes an addiction

In some people, self harm can become an addiction.

These people will experience urges, or strong impulse, to harm themselves that will be hard to control or resist and feel distressed if they can’t self harm. With time, they will need to harm themselves more and more often and create worse and worse injuries. Even when their self harm starts causing problems for their health and relationship with others and own well-being, they will continue doing it.

Experiencing certain situations like abuse, other mental illnesses or difficult life events can increase the risk of someone self harming. (More about that here)

Sources :

  • Mental Health Foundation. Why do people self-harm? Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/truth-about-self-harm
  • International Society for the Study of Self-injury. Why Do People Engage in Nonsuicidal Self-Injury? Retrieved from https://itriples.org/category/about-self-injury/#why-do-people-engage-in-self-injury
  • The Cornell Research Program on Self-injury and Recovery. Why do people self-injure? Retrieved from http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/about-self-injury.html#tab5
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness. Why People Self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Self-harm
  • Mind. Why do people harm themselves? Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/why-people-self-harm/

why self harm works

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness. Why People Self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Self-harm
  • The Cornell Research Program on Self-injury and Recovery. Is self-injury addictive? http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/about-self-injury.html#tab8

Addiction

  • The Cornell Research Program on Self-injury and Recovery. Is self-injury addictive? http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/about-self-injury.html#tab8
  • American Psychiatric Association. What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction