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Self-Harm: Signs, Causes and Treatment

There is no fixed reason for what is the cause of self-harm or why people do hurt themselves. Trauma might trigger it for some, while others may be influenced by someone else. Sometimes, you understand why you hurt yourself, other times, you don’t. But what matters is how to control it. The National Center for Health Statistics says 660,000 people visit emergency rooms for self-harm, and 49,476 people die from it. Unbelievable, isn’t it? 

Self-harm can be scary, but it’s treatable. Read this article to know what is the cause of self-harm, the signs of self-harm, and how it can be treated. 

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is identified as self-injury, self-mutilation, or self-abuse—it happens when someone hurts themselves to relieve the pain. It is relatively standard. Self-harm beginning is hard to spot as it might result from some traumatic incident given by a close one, but with time, it becomes noticeable.

But why would anyone do that to themselves? Because their emotions feel too big to process. Big changes in life, like a breakup, more stress at work, or a major personal trauma, can lead to strong emotions that make someone want to harm themselves. Medical experts often refer to cutting and other forms of self-harm as non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI.

Why Do People Self-Harm?

Self-harm affects people of all ages and often arises from overwhelming emotional issues, serving as a coping mechanism to release tension. It’s a sign of mental distress, indicating underlying psychiatric disorders or emotional issues, particularly common among adolescents facing emotional turmoil. 

There are no fixed patterns; while some experience it once, others may engage in it frequently for years, seeking short-term relief that can fuel a recurring cycle. This behavior is not limited by age, affecting individuals of all ages, including young people.

What is the cause of self-harm might not be that specific, but some reasons are: 

  • Coping with distressing feelings and memories
  • Seeking support through physical pain
  • Expressing inner pain that is difficult to verbalize
  • Punishing themselves for feelings of guilt or shame
  • Feeling lonely and disconnected from others
  • Individuals with mental health issues or those who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are at a higher risk of self-harming

Common underlying diagnoses are:

Understanding these reasons and risk factors is vital. Now, let’s explore signs of self-harm.

Signs of Self-Harm 

When people hurt themselves, they do it privately. Hence, it goes unnoticed by others to identify what is the cause of self-harm. If prolonged, medical help is required. Signs of self-harm are- 

Self-harming behaviors can include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Hitting 
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Abusing drugs 
  • Alcohol consumption

Noticeable signs that someone may be self-harming include:

  • Mood changes
  • Secrecy
  • Avoid exposing arms or legs
  • Unusual excuses for injuries
  • Withdrawing from usual activities

Preventing Self-Harm

Feeling trapped in the cycle of self-harm can be incredibly distressing. It offers temporary relief from overwhelming emotions but is not a long-term solution. The good news is that many people have found ways to reduce and overcome self-harming behaviors. There’s hope for finding healthier ways to manage tough emotions.

If you’ve recognized that you have a problem and are ready to get better, here are some steps to help you stop self-harming:

1. Talking Therapy 

Sharing your secret can be a huge relief and is an essential first step in recovery. It could be anyone, be it a friend, parent, or therapist.

There are a lot of different types of talking therapy, including: 

 All these types of talking therapy involve working with a trained therapist who will keep your feelings, experiences, and secrets confidential. 

2. Identify Your Triggers

Understand which feelings drive your urge to self-harm, like sadness, shame, guilt, anger, or loneliness.

3. Try Healthier Outlets

You can squeeze ice cubes, take a cold shower, eat hot chili, or draw on yourself with a red pen. Find what works for you.

4. Learn New Coping Methods

When you recognize a trigger, find other ways to deal with it, such as painting, writing, exercising, bathing, or talking to someone.

5. Create a ‘Self-Soothe’ Kit

Fill a box or bag with items that calm you, such as objects with pleasant textures or scents, pictures, music playlists, puzzles, or coloring supplies. You can use these items in emergencies.

6. Self-Harm Guidance For Parents

If you suspect your child is self-harming, watch for signs like changes in behavior. Talk to them or see a doctor for guidance. Parents often feel scared and confused. Remember, self-harm usually isn’t a suicide attempt. 

Listen to your child without assuming. Don’t hesitate to seek help together. Self-harm and its emotions can impact mental health. Early help can teach coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, or depression. You can regain control without harming yourself.

How is Self-Harm Treated?

The most effective treatment for self-harm customizes your specific behavior. Treatment options may include:

  1. Medication to address depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and racing thoughts.
  2. Take Cognitive-behavioral therapy,  dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy to understand and manage destructive thoughts and behaviors.
  3. Utilization of therapy, journals, and behavior logs to restore self-control.
  4. Take interpersonal therapy to develop and maintain relationships effectively.
  5. A mental health professional can supervise these approaches on an outpatient basis. They can also provide care through residential or inpatient hospitalization.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, seek a doctor’s help for better understanding and treatment. 

FAQs: What is the Cause of Self- Harm?

1. How is self-harm treated?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy are helpful for people who self-harm.

2. What is a common unhealthy self-injury technique that some people use to cope with traumatic events or stress?

It can include cutting, burning, biting, or scratching the skin, picking at wounds or scabs so they don’t heal, pulling out hair, punching, or hitting the body.

3. How can I stop harming myself?

Asking for help and having support is very important if you are trying to stop self-harming. You must do this when you feel ready to talk about it. Who you talk to doesn’t matter as long as it’s someone you trust and feel comfortable with. 

4. How can I help someone who is self-harming?

Supporting someone who is self-harming involves listening without judgment, encouraging them to seek professional help, and offering emotional support. Avoid reacting with anger or frustration. 

5. Why do people self-harm?

People self-harm to manage emotional pain, stress, or trauma. It allows them to express feelings, gain control, or punish themselves. Seeking professional help is crucial.


Overall, self-harm is serious but treatable. Some people are treated as outpatients, which means they get treatments for hourly sessions with their psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. Repeated self-harm can become like an addiction. In case this situation starts taking a toll on you and you wonder what is the cause of self-harm, get medical help right away.

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