Myths about self-harm

Myth: Self-harm is a suicide attempt.

Fact: Self-harm is a way to express unbearable emotional pain and overwhelming pent-up feelings. It can actually be a survival mechanism that allows someone to cope with difficult feelings they would not express otherwise. It doesn’t mean the person wants to die.

Myth: The problem is self-inflicted; therefore the person does not need help or understanding.

Fact: The person often feels enormous, overwhelming pain. Self-injuring is the only way they know to express it. This level of emotional distress should always be taken seriously.

Myth: Self-harm is done to gain attention.

Fact: Many people who self-harm go to great lengths to hide their injuries. It’s often only discovered by accident. The person might be looking for understanding, kindness or acceptance, rather than attention.

Myth: Only young people self-harm.

Fact: The stereotype of the self-harming teenager is not true. People of all ages engage in self-harm.

Why do people self-harm?

While every situation is different, here are some of the reasons people have given for self-harming:

  1. It helps them to express unbearable emotional pain or tension. These feelings can be hard to talk about or acknowledge, but they need to be expressed somehow and physical injury helps focus this.
  2. It’s easier to cope with physical pain than emotional pain. Cutting or burning yourself transforms the emotional pain into something visible. The person might not know why they self-harm, but they have learned from past experience that self-harming regulates their feelings.
  3. Injuries and scars give a person something physical to show for all their emotional pain. Wounds are tangible, external and treatable, whereas emotional pain is confusing and hidden.
  4. A few people use self-harm as a way to manipulate others. This is likely to be difficult for family and friends. They’ll feel angry, frustrated and afraid.
  5. Some people who self-harm may do so to ground themselves or bring themselves back to reality.