Self-harm might be part of your experience now, but it doesn't have to be in the future – you can learn to care for yourself emotionally and physically. Changing your self-harming habits is about learning to cope with your urges to self-harm, finding new ways to express how you feel, having the right support, and improving your general health and wellbeing.
Self-harm refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. It is usually done in secret and on places of the body that may not be seen by others. The most common type of self-harm is cutting, but there are many other types of self-harm including burning or punching the body, or picking skin or sores.
Why do people self-harm?
In general people self-harm as a way of coping. People often talk about harming themselves as a way to relieve, control or express distressing feelings, thoughts or memories. Some people harm themselves because they feel alone, while others do so to punish themselves due to feelings of guilt or shame. However, the relief they experience after self-harming is only short term and at some point the difficult feelings usually return. With the return of these feelings often comes an urge to self-harm again. This cycle of self-harm is often difficult to break.
Most people who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves, but there's a chance that they may hurt themselves more than they intended to; this increases their risk of accidental suicide. People who repeatedly self-harm may also become suicidal and feel hopeless and trapped.
Finding other ways to cope
It is possible to learn to manage really intense feelings in ways that don't cause harm, and many of these alternatives can also offer you long-term relief. It can be hard and at times confronting to break free from your self-harming habits, but just take it one step at a time.
Some people can begin this process on their own but many need the support of their friends and family. If your self-harming is particularly intense or long term, then the support of a health professional will be essential.
Having supportive people around you is always important. Surround yourself with people that you trust, who will listen to you without judgment and who you enjoy being with. It’s good to work on some things that you can do for yourself, but you don't to have to face this challenge alone. It's important to let others know how you feel when things don’t go to plan. Don’t build up worries, anger or disappointments – talk about them.
A counsellor, psychologist or doctor can help you to work out what is triggering your self-harm, and begin to work with you on managing your difficult thoughts and feelings. Talk to your GP or find a mental health professional. You can also call a crisis line like Lifeline – 13 11 14.
How family and friends can help
If you're worried about someone who is self-harming, it's important to talk with them about it. It can be a hard conversation at first so approach it with care, respect and without judgment. Let them know that you're there for them and encourage them to seek help.
It can be overwhelming and at times distressing to know someone you care about is self-harming. To look after others you need to also look after yourself – try to get enough sleep, keep fit and healthy, and seek your own support from friends or professionals.