The Many Forms of Self-Harm


When self-harm is mentioned, you likely imagine someone cutting themselves. There are various reasons why someone might harm themselves, and we need to face up to the fact that we all need to do more.

But to recognise when someone is hurting themselves can be difficult. There are a variety of methods, and often the person hides their harm away. It becomes hard to spot the signs and to even understand what those signs mean.

I have three friends who have openly admitted to me that they have self-harmed and each of them used different methods. Some of you may never have considered these methods a form of self-harm before, but for myself and those individuals, they now view it as self-harm.

Don’t judge

The first person did what any of you may imagine when self-harm is mentioned. They cut their arms to release the internal pain for even just a few moments by experiencing external pain. When they admitted it to me, they said how thankful they were that I didn’t judge them. Other folks had seen the cuts and passed judgement upon that individual, and they had resorted to wearing long-sleeve tops to cover the wounds and scars.

It is not right to judge those who are feeling pain and are searching for an outlet and therefore resort to the extreme methods of self-harming. Judgement blocks you from helping them and them accepting your help with judgement attached. As a trainee counsellor, I am consistently told to leave my opinion as far away from the client as possible. It should have no part to play.

Another has suffered from eating disorders, and they believe that it also a form of self-harm They have suffered from it for well over a decade now and have previously referred themselves for medical support. Eating disorders are commonly misunderstood and face terrible amounts of judgement. People often say unthinking statements to those suffering that are tinged with judgement.

Fight club

The third individual went through two stages of self-harm with two methods. The first period came after they considered suicide. Instead of ending their own life, they set off on a journey of self-destruction.

He found an underground fight club on Preston’s docks and threw himself into it. He was sixteen and folks there believed they could easily beat this kid down. The problem was that he wanted to get hurt. He was there to cause pain, receive pain and to win. Here was this young, lean kid beating the crap out of guys twice his age, grinning and not caring about the pain racking his body. He still has the souvenir scar on his left shoulder from a stab wound from a guy who cheated a brought and flick knife to the match (there are rules in the underground).

He needed the fights. He needed the pain. It made him feel alive.

Substance abuse and addiction

Later, after a series of damaging events, he entered his second self-destructive stage by turning to drink. Every weekend for six months for all three days, he would drink until he couldn’t remember. It wasn’t easy because his tolerance was already high, but he’d hit it Friday night, Saturday and Sunday night.

In that period, he made mistakes that sometimes haunt him still. He has since returned to a healthy and happy place in his life, with a far stronger grip on himself. But he always remembers those dark periods and how he fell so far to hurt himself.

All the examples so far have been physical self-harm. I chose another form.

Emotional self-harm

For me, emotional self-harm is when you actively pursue behaviour that whilst it may not hurt you physically, it causing great suffering emotionally.

I shut myself down, gave into my anxiety and depression and hurt not just myself, but many of those around me. I slept with people I didn’t care for, used them for simple sexual pleasure to hide away from the connection and love I truly craved. I cheated on guys I should have cared for, and I fled any chance of romance or love.

I created a barren wasteland of emotion within me. I was addicted to the emptiness that came with it.

You may not agree that it in self-harm, but in hindsight, I believe it was my way of hurting myself. It cut deep into my mind and my heart. I did it for over a decade and not caring who I hurt.

I only escaped that cycle of pain because I found someone worth living for and that in turn made me realise that I had worth in myself. I couldn’t be told that despite my friends trying. I had to feel it through my love for another and their love for me.

We need to look beyond the view that harming yourself is just cutting wrists. It has many different methods and is caused by countless reasons. If we want to reduce it, we have to recognise the signs that people are hurting themselves deliberately even if they aren’t truly aware of it. It is the way in which we can help those friends and family who are hurting.

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