Self harm

woman sitting alone on bench at lake.jpeg

The act of physically harming yourself to relieve emotional pain is referred to as self-harming. As a social issue, it is widespread and enormously varied. People of all ages and backgrounds can be driven to self-harm for any number of reasons, so the aim of this blog is to give a general understanding of self-harming, and the logic behind it.

Who Self-Harms?

Although anyone can self-harm, there are certain groups where the problem is significantly more prevalent. Firstly, it is important to note that 90% of people who self-harm begin doing so during their teenage years. While the majority of these will generally stop before the age of 30, it is almost exclusively during adolescence that this problem manifests.

While the problem is more common amongst females, it is growing in males. Roughly 1 in 5 women and girls self-harm, compared to 1 in 7 men/boys. Members of the LGBT community are also one of the most at-risk groups, with one 2016 study showing that 56% of LGBT youth have engaged in self-harm, twice the normal rate of their peers.

Why do People Self-harm?

There are countless reasons why people feel the need to engage in self-harm. The motivations vary from person to person, although several key themes are more common than others. Low levels of confidence or self-esteem is one of the most widely reported factors, along with bullying and struggles with sexuality. However, other problems such as abuse, loss, addiction, or loneliness often contribute as well. 

That answers the question of what drives people to self-harm, but it doesn't explain the reasoning behind the act itself. Psychologically speaking, emotional and physical pain activate similar regions of the brain. Therefore, inflicting physical pain can distract the brain from emotional suffering. 

Self-harm is often used as a coping technique. Of the reasons given by people who self-harm, "relief" is one of the most commonly cited. Other reasons people give are that it is a reminder of life when they feel numb or "dead inside", or to alleviate feelings of guilt. This is because many self-harmers view the physical pain as an acknowledgement of the emotional pain, while others use it as a way to regain control over the situation. 

The prevalence of self-harm is increasing at alarming rates all over the Western world. Research conducted by the National Suicide Research Foundation in 2015 found that rates of self-harm in Ireland had increased 2% on 2014, up 7% from 2007. Self-harming is a serious issue that could lead to many unintended complications. If you are engaging in self-harm, please consider visiting one of our therapists to address the issue head on.

David Clarke