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Is There Someone In Your Life Who Is Self-Harming?

The often addictive habit of self harming (usually by young teens) has started to feature in books, films and TV shows, making us more aware of this growing problem even if we are not directly affected. Sometimes this habit can go too far, putting the person that carries it out at risk of serious injury or even death.


A a large proportion of those who self-harm have been sexually abused or bullied. It is estimated that up to two million people in the U.S. injure themselves in some way. The majority are teenagers or young adults with young women outnumbering young men. They are of all races and backgrounds.

In what ways do people self harm?

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Interfering with wound healing (picking or reopening wounds)
  • Punching or hitting oneself or other objects
  • Inserting objects into the skin
  • Purposely bruising or breaking one’s bones
  • Pulling out hair

How recent is this habit?

Researchers began to study this in the 1960s and 1970s but, at that time, they considered such self injury to be a precursor of suicide and not a whole subject just on its own. Now studies are pointing to an increase in the numbers from the 1990s to 2000s but that it is tailing off now.

Why do people self harm?

It is understood that most will engage in self-injury as a way to cope with their emotions, particularly negative ones. And when they do self-harm, they get instant results with a sense of calm and relief -- most likely from the release of endorphins. Enorphins are the brain chemicals that relieve pain and can produce euphoria. They use self-harming as a mechanism to cope with internal emotions, stop bad feelings, relieve emotional numbness, self punish, obtain a sense of belonging, get attention and many more reasons too.

What is self-harming or self-injuring?

Self-harming is a borderline personality disorder but it is not isolated. It is often in conjunction with other mental disorders. These include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Conduct and oppositional disorders

Substance abuse Conduct and oppositional disorders

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry released a statement as long ago as 1999 in which they listed tattooing and excessive piercing (along with picking, burning, head-banging and cutting) as possible forms of self-injury. More recently, mainstream professional journals have included articles where tattooing and body piercing have been associated with dangerous and sometimes lethal risk taking behavior including eating disorders, risk-taking behavior, self-abuse, substance abuse, depression and social alienation.

How can you help someone who is self-harming?

Some of the best ways that those affected have found worked are:

  • Listening to music
  • Talking to friends and family
  • Writing down their personal feelings
  • Taking deep breaths
  • Punching something (like a pillow)

Just as important are those suggestions coming from therapists themselves -- they are linked to specific feelings...

  • Feeling alone or isolated? Try talking to someone, writing down how you feel, walking the dog, wrapping a blanket around yourself, meeting up with a friend or doing some exercise.
  • Feeling angry? Try punching something like a pillow, doing some exercise, running, screwing up paper and throwing it, snapping twigs, squeezing clay, hitting a rolled up newspaper on a door frame, screaming, crying or having a cold shower.
  • Feeling self hate or low self esteem? Try listening to music, having a bath, burning incense, calling a friend, writing, painting or writing down all the good things about yourself.
  • Feeling you can’t control things in your life? Try organizing something, cleaning or tidying, solving a puzzle, setting a target time (e.g. saying you won’t harm for 15 minutes and then, if you can last that length of time, try another 15 minutes).
  • Feeling numb or like a ‘zombie’? Try focusing on something like breathing, being around people who make you feel good, craft activities, making a photo collage, playing an instrument, baking or playing computer games.
  • Feeling the need to escape from your life or a difficult situation? Try a hot or cold shower, drawing on the body with red pen, massaging lotion into the places you would normally harm, squeezing ice cubes or biting on lemon for the “shock factor” or painting nails.

Is there help at the other end of a phone?

Many countries have a national help line with someone available to assist young people who phone in with any type of problem. Sadly, the USA does not have such a facility. However there is limited help available at this link. You can also approach

Jane Chitty writes regularly for Healing Natural Oils, a producer and retailer of high-quality, all-natural treatments for a variety of conditions (including acne, arthritis, moles, warts, skin tags and many more). After living for many years in in Cape Town, South Africa, she has now settled in the UK but is able to spend some time in the USA because of close family living there. She loves to compare natural treatments and lifestyles -- especially in the areas of health, green living and nutrition -- in these three very different countries. Her posts can be found at

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