What Is Self-Harm

Self-harm, also referred to as non-suicidal self-injury, is described as any behaviour that involves deliberately causing pain to oneself and is typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Self-harming behaviours can include pulling out hair, hitting oneself, and scratching, biting, burning, or cutting ones’ skin. It can also involve repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations, and abuse of alcohol or drugs. Self-harm if often used by individuals as a coping strategy for emotional pain, distress, or overwhelming feelings. Some individuals might self-harm only once or a few times in their life, while others might self-harm repetitively over many years. Self-harming behaviours can have complications including:

  • Long-term scaring or disfigurement
  • Infections
  • Worsening emotional state (cycles of hopelessness, feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and guilt)
  • Brain injury or organ damage from drug and alcohol abuse
  • Severe and possibly fatal injury

Common Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of self-harm can include behavioural, physical, psychological, and psychosocial indicators:

  • Dressing in long sleeves or long pants even in hot weather
  • Avoiding participation in activities that expose skin, such as swimming
  • Hiding potentially dangerous objects such as scissors, razor blades and/or a lighter
  • Frequent unexplained or accidental injuries
  • Open wounds such as cuts, scratches, bruises or burns
  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Feelings of anxiety and/or depression
  • Disengaging from social interactions and difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Changes in usual eating and sleeping habits
  • Mood swings, impulsivity, and unpredictability

Self-Management, Tips, and Strategies

There are some techniques that can be used as alternatives to self-injury to relieve distress in the short term. These include:

  • Delay: Try waiting for 5 minutes before self-harming, then waiting another 10 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour etc. You can also try waiting until after you speak to someone trusted.
  • Distract: Try distracting yourself by going for a walk, calling a friend, playing loud music, playing with a pet, playing a game, writing, drawing, or clenching all your muscles then relaxing them.
  • Divert: Replace the self-harming behaviours with activities which have a similar effect or are similarly uncomfortable or painful but do not actually cause injury. This could be holding ice cubes, snapping a rubber band on your wrist, eating a chilli, punching a pillow, or drawing red lines on your body where you would otherwise harm yourself.
  • Deep breathing: Try relaxation techniques such as breathing in slowly counting to five then breathing out slowly counting to five, or other meditation and breathing techniques.
  • Understanding your self-harm: It may be helpful to write down what happens before and after self-harming to identify potential triggers and recognise your urges, which could help       you make different choices. Triggers could be things like birthdays, particular events,   specific thoughts, or feelings. Urges could be strong emotions like anger or sadness, physical    sensation like racing heart-rate or shallow breathing, specific thoughts, or feelings of disconnection like numbness or feeling like you are outside of your own body.

Please note that if you or someone you know are in immediate danger please call triple zero (000) or go to the hospital emergency department. Do not hesitate to seek medical assistance.

When can a Psychologist help?

Self-harm can be potentially life threatening and can be difficult to stop by yourself. For this reason it is important to seek help from your doctor or a psychologist. Psychologists can help you work out alternative, safe, strategies for managing and reducing the emotional distress leading to the self-harm. They can also help you explore and resolve underlying issues to prevent further episodes of self-harm. Our team is here to support you through your grief and help you find ways to cope. You can book online using our Book an Appointment button, give us a call on (02) 4625 3339, or email us at admin@innerspacepsych.com.au.

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