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10 reasons behind self-harm: What should be the caregiver's action plan?

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Self-harm is a psychological coping technique; it can include anything from cutting, burning, scratching and picking as a way to cope with difficult situations. Self-harm is often done without the intention of suicide and may be a temporary solution for overwhelming emotions such as anger and anxiety. However, self-harm can often lead to serious forms of mental illness like borderline personality disorder and alcoholism. In order to prevent serious consequences from self-injury or help someone who self-harms learn how to deal with problematic emotions in healthy ways, it's important that caretakers understand the different 12 reasons behind why do people self harm?

1. The need for protection

One of the types of self harm is an attempt to protect oneself from further emotional pain. Many people who use self-harm as their way of coping believe that the only way to truly protect yourself from emotional pain is to inflict physical pain on yourself. By harming themselves, they hope that the injury will distract them from focusing on negative emotions, so it can have a calming effect.

2. The need for attention

Many people turn towards self-harm as a result of years deprived of positive attention and negative attention. Oftentimes youths who self-harm do so because they feel that the only way to get their attention is through self-injury. However, one of the worst errors an adult can make is to be seen as a child in their attempts to get attention. Self-harm has been used by individuals as a means of gaining attention at times when they didn't receive it in acceptable ways, and may continue in an attempt to replace that kind of attention they never received.

3. A cry for help

Self-harm can serve as a cry for help. Many people turn to self-harm when they feel that no one cares or is listening. They may feel misunderstood, and the only way to get someone's attention is by inflicting physical damage to oneself. Oftentimes, a person who is self-harming will exhibit mood swings and be unable to moderate these feelings with other people.

4. A coping mechanism

Some individuals are very sensitive to their surroundings as well as their own personal feelings and thoughts; this, coupled with lack of another coping mechanism, may lead them to self-injury in order to deal with one's own emotions. Self-harm can be a temporary fix for the individual until they've gotten an understanding of how to deal with these feelings. However, this may become a cycle, and a person who self-harms may want to continue hurting themselves as opposed to finding other ways to help themselves cope with uncomfortable emotions.

5. A tool that relieves stress

Stress is one of the most common reasons behind self-harm as it gives an outlet for pent up impulses that are dangerous if not vented in some way. Some individuals increasingly use harm as a means of relieving stress without realizing that they're only making their issues worse in the long run. Self-harm doesn't provide an outlet for stress, it only makes the individual feel even more depressed and self-loathing than before.

6. A way to release anger

Many people who self-harm do so in a way that can express their anger without harming themselves. By cutting, burning, or picking themselves, people can release pent up negative emotions without damaging their physical selves. This is why many professionals who work with adolescents advise parents to talk about self-harm issues with their children over time, as it's always best to help your child express his or her emotions rather than suppress them. However, it's important not to trivialize self-harm as a way of expressing feelings; making light of the problem or trivializing the feelings will do nothing but hurt your child's overall well-being by perpetuating harmful behavior.

7. A coping mechanism for negative thoughts

There are individuals who believe that negative feelings and thoughts only exist when they are expressed. At the same time, there are some individuals who experience inappropriate guilt and shame, often stemming from an injury they've done to themselves or another, who believe that they need to punish themselves in order to rid themselves of these thoughts.

8. A response to abuse or trauma

Individuals have a wide range of responses after being abused in any way for any length of time; some of these responses include depression, suicidal tendencies, self-injury and addiction. Many youths who are abused will turn towards self-injury as their way of expressing their depression and emotional pain. However, it's important to note that those who self-injure may not be trying to take their own life, but are only trying to relieve themselves of these painful feelings. It's important to remember that self-harm is NOT a cry for help and should never be trivialized as such.

9. A response to controlling relationships

Many spouses, partners and parents use violence against other people in order to exert control over them; by hurting themselves, they're able to create a temporary escape from the stress of being under someone else's control. In an attempt to break the vicious cycle of violence, many people will learn how to control themselves in order to prevent or avoid future conflict or how to stop self harm.

10. A response to personal loss

Many people who deliberate self-harm after the death of a loved one or divorce do so in an attempt to alleviate the feelings of sadness and depression they are experiencing. Death is a very difficult thing to deal with, and many find that the only way they can deal with their loss is by harming themselves. They may believe that they have dishonored their loved one's memory by living on, or believe that this is their fault and are trying to punish themselves for what happened.

Ways of coping up with feels of self harm

If your loved one has feelings of self harm and you are worried about your loved one, this will help on how to control thoughts of self harm:

1. Stick with your loved one

If you are the one who is worried about your loved one, you should stick with him or her no matter what happens, in this way they will feel safe enough to share and do their best. In case they have any negative thoughts on them, get angry or even cry then don't leave them alone just sit down and talk it out calmly, be honest and open. It is important for you to know that most self-harmers want to take their own life although it is not true most of the time but if you see any long term danger signs then move ahead for help immediately.

2. Don't disturb them

It is important to not disturb your loved one while they are doing their self harm. If you feel that there is an urgent situation in their condition then you should call your doctor or any other kind of medical help rather than disturbing them. You should also tell the neighbors that you found your loved one because most self-harmers become hesitant to call for help because of the bad experience they have.

3. Give them privacy

It is important to give your loved one privacy whether they are doing self-harm or not. If the doctor has told you to give them privacy then do so in a way that they will not notice you but it is okay if they notice.

4. Be calm and kind

There should never be any kind of verbal abuse, sexual abuse or physical abuse with your loved one because this might cause more harm to them than good and will result in harming themselves even more. Tell them that you will always love them no matter what happens and if being alone makes them feel better then let them be alone.

5. Help them to stop

Self-harm is a serious issue and should be treated as such. If you are worried about your loved one then you should start helping them by finding out their reasons for self-harming and then trying to find how to stop self harm. All the help that your loved one needs can be found online.

6. Seek medical help

If your loved one is harming themselves in a way that they are losing too much blood or they are getting themselves into a major problem then you should seek medical help immediately. Your doctor will usually give advice on how to treat them so that they can heal properly, plus make sure that they do not hurt themselves again.


Self harm can be treated if you know what to do. You should never try to stop them, but if you see that they are almost losing too much blood or they are in a situation that could potentially prove fatal then you should seek medical help immediately, as well as talking with them about what is going on in their mind and for the reasons for why they are harming themselves. Self harm should never be trivialized because although it does not hurt anyone directly it is a sign that someone is hurting themselves so let them know that it is okay to hurt themselves and to be honest with you.

We hope you're equipped with tips about how to get rid of self harm thoughts after reading this article.

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