You Might Be Practicing Self Harm and Not Know It

A man in recovery from addiction thinks about his past self-destructive behaviors.

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Self-harm comes in many forms, but others might not know they are hurting themselves as a way to cope with difficult mental disorder symptoms. Since self-harm tends to be a taboo topic, many might not know that their behaviors are hurting more than helping. Substance use is sometimes a form of self-harm on its own, but after treatment, it’s possible to switch to other kinds if a person isn’t fully aware of their coping mechanism and all that it encompasses.

If you struggle with self-harm or find yourself triggered by the topic matter, this article discusses complex topics that might be challenging to read. If mentions of self-harm or suicidal thoughts trigger you, then it might be best to skip this article. If you are currently struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, contact the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255 or text a crisis counselor.

What Is Self Harm?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-harm is “an act with a non-fatal outcome, in which an individual deliberately initiates a non-habitual behavior that, without intervention from others, will cause self-harm.” They also describe self-harm as when someone ingests a substance over the prescribed or recognized dosage.

There are many reasons why a person self harms. A person might self-harm to feel more in control of their life. They might self-harm to cope with intense emotions or numb emotions. A person who feels overwhelmed by their feelings may self-harm as a way of grounding themselves, while another person might self-harm because they feel emotionally numb and want to experience some sort of feeling. Regardless of the reason, self-harm is a destructive act that only leads to shame and isolation.

Something We Don’t Talk About

Self-harm has become a taboo subject. Many patients choose not to disclose their self-harm out of fear of consequences if found out. Those who self-harm might be afraid of the reaction from their peers or family. They might be fearful of telling a trusted person like a loved one or a healthcare professional because they are afraid of their reaction.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of shame around self-harming that leads to people remaining silent about their struggles. Silence can become a considerable risk if self-harming worsens and escalates into suicide attempts. A person who isn’t honest about self-harming is more likely to isolate themselves instead of reaching out for help.

It Comes in Many Forms

Since self-harm isn’t talked about much, many rely on media stereotypes. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and movies like Fatal Attraction might be people’s only exposure to the concept of self-harm. It tends to be a theme in horror movies as well, which only worsens the stigma. Self-harm can come in many forms outside of how you might view it.

Other ways a person might be self-harming include:

  • Exercising too much or exercising while injured.
  • Not wearing clothes appropriate for the weather.
  • Not eating when hungry.
  • Intentionally going without sleep.
  • Alcohol or drug misuse.

It’s important to expand your definition of self-harm because your behavior might actually fit under this category. If you are engaging in self-destructive behavior, you might be practicing self-harm, and you should take it seriously. Help is only a phone call away. If you or a loved one might be self-harming, a mental health professional should be sought right away.

You Might Be at Risk

Many mental health disorders include self-harming as a symptom. Personality disorders and mood disorders are the most common. These mental health disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline Personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Substance Use disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety and Neurotic disorder

Those who have symptoms of impulsivity, mood swings, or troubles relating to others are also likely to be at risk of self-harming. Many of these disorders are hereditary or result from trauma in childhood or adulthood. If these disorders run in your family, then it is recommended that you research symptoms and seek treatment if these symptoms apply to you.

If You or Someone You Know Is Self Harming

If you’re concerned that you or someone you care about might be self-harming, approach the situation with empathy and understanding. People who are actively self-harming might deny that they are out of fear or shame. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or a local crisis hotline. When the person is more stable, contact a mental healthcare professional and discuss options for mental health services. Since many mental health disorders include self-harm as a symptom, something deeper may need to be addressed.

Since self-harm isn’t talked about much, many people who self-harm go unnoticed. Those who do might hide the damage they cause themselves out of fear or shame. Self-harm is prevalent in those who misuse substances. Even though someone who self-harms is in a lot of pain, they can be rejected and shamed for what they have done. If you or a loved one is self-harming, get them the help they need right away. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or a local crisis hotline. Once they are stable, contact a mental healthcare provider and create a plan to work on the source of pain and how you can heal. Jaywalker Lodge understands how crucial it is to address topics that tend to be sources of shame, especially when they relate to addiction and mental health. You aren’t alone. Contact Jaywalker today at (866) 529-9255 to learn how you can help your loved one.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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