Why do People Harm Themselves


A person who self-harms is likely to have gone through very difficult, painful experiences as a child or young adult. At the time, they probably had no one they could confide in, so didn't receive the support and the emotional outlet they needed to deal with it. The experience might have involved physical violence, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. They might have been neglected, separated from someone they loved, been bullied, harassed, assaulted, isolated, put under intolerable pressure, made homeless, and sent into care, into hospital or to other institutions.

“I am a survivor of both sexual abuse and self-injury. I no longer self-injure, but it has been a long struggle to try to acknowledge and work through emotions that once felt overwhelming in their power.”

Experiences like these erode self-esteem. Emotions that have no outlet may be buried and blocked completely out of awareness. If a trusted adult betrays or abuses them, and there are no other witnesses, children will often blame themselves. They turn their anger inwards. By the time they become adults, self-injury can be a way of expressing their pain, punishing themselves, and keeping memories at bay.

There is often an absence of pain during the act of self-injury, rather like the absence of sensation that often occurs during abuse or trauma. The body produces natural opiates, which numb it and mask the emotions, so that little is felt or realised consciously. A badly traumatised person may end up feeling quite detached from their feelings and their body. Some may injure themselves to maintain that sense of being separate, and to convince themselves that they aren't vulnerable. Others may injure themselves in order to feel something and know that they are real and alive.

There can often be myths and negative attitudes surrounding self-harming, even within the healthcare industry. Professionals can often make assumptions as to why someone is self-harming and therefore how to treat them. There can be instances of healthcare professionals with an unsympathetic attitude to someone who comes to them with injuries; for example, believing that people who are cutting themselves are causing their own injuries and therefore wasting the time of the nurse who has to stitch their wounds. NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) produces guidelines on the treatment of self-harm, explaining the need for exploring the underlying reasons someone may be self-harming, rather than just the self-harming behaviour itself.

View as PDF


The Have I Got A Problem website is a free online resource to help people better understand any issues or concerns they may have about mental health or addiction. The website includes resources specifically focused to; general Mental Health, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurities, Self-harm Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anger Management, Eating Disorders, Coping, general Addiction, Alcohol, Smoking, Gambling, Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana (Cannabis) Ecstasy, PCP, Mephedrone, Ketamine & Crystal Meth.

The site was created to give the public information to help them understand mental health and addiction issues and to assist people in making better informed decisions about their life and personal choices.

www.haveigotaproblem.com was created and is run by 'Advising Communities’, which is a UK registered charity (Charity No. 1061055)


"Sometimes i look at my scars and see them more like battle scars that i feel proud of. And other times i feel ashaimed of them coz of the people i've hurt when i've harmed myself."


MoreSend us your Quotes

Tips & Hints

  • Trust in someone

    If you’re ready to seek help for cutting or self-harm, the first step is being willing to confide in another person. It can be scary ...
  • Figure out what your self-harm triggers are

    Self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. What feelings make you want to cut or hurt yourself? Whether it is sadnes...
  • Discover your feelings

    Having a hard time pinpointing exactly which feelings trigger your urge to self-harm? You may need to work on your emotional awareness....
  • Look for new ways of coping

    Self-harm is your way of dealing with feelings and difficult situations. So if you’re going to stop, you need to put alternative ways...
  • Build self-esteem

    Build self-esteem via positive affirmations. Write down things you like about yourself (or what others say are your positives), taking ...
  • More Tips & Hints