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Is this self-harm?
by cynefin October 1st 2018, 02:45 PM

Is this self-harm?
By the Resources Team

Many people ask "Is this self-harm?" with regard to something they've been experiencing. Self-harm can be a broad topic, so the following information may help to condense it.

The definition of self-harm

Self-harm is when you do something with the intent to harm yourself. Self-harm may not always be a conscious choice. For instance, absentmindedly ripping hair out of your head can be considered self-harm, even if you're not entirely aware that you are doing it.

While some methods of self-harm are more common than others, anything you do to intentionally hurt yourself is self-harm. Not all of the methods are listed below; this is to prevent possibly giving people ideas on additional ways to harm themselves.

Remember that self-harm is a coping skill. It is not a positive coping skill, but it is a way to cope with how you're feeling. Choosing a coping skill at all, even if it isn't always healthy, is a good sign. For many, self-harm is an alternative to suicide.

What is considered self-harm?

Cutting, scratching, and burning are fairly common methods of self-harm. Scratching tends to occur when the surface of the skin is mostly intact, while cutting breaks the skin. Biting tends to stay at the surface of the skin as well, but can also penetrate and cause more harm. Burns are typically self-explanatory, but should be taken seriously due to the high risk of infection. Branding, although not as common, occurs when a hot object is placed onto the skin.

Hitting yourself, or using force to cause bruising or the breaking of your bones is also self-harm. Bruising or breaking bones is not as common but it is still sometimes seen as a self-harm method.

Hair pulling, scab picking, or picking at your skin is self-harm. Hair pulling is most commonly done on the head, but can be done in other areas. Scab picking can cause scarring or infection if the wound is not given time to heal.

Though sometimes overlooked, self-harm through unhealthy eating patterns such as restricting, binging, or purging is common. Unhealthy eating behaviors often cause damage to the body (such as the teeth).

Something not commonly thought of as self-harm includes sexual self-harm. Sexual self-harm might include relationships that you do not want to be in, or that are harmful. It can also include doing things to yourself, such as genital mutilation or masturbating excessively, to cause pain, or when you do not really want to.

Multiple piercings or tattoos can be done not for the fashion or meaning behind them, but for the pain. They can be considered self-harm when they are done for the pain.

Abusing alcohol or drugs can sometimes be done for self-harm, especially because excessive use (or non-excessive depending on the drug) can harm the body. Harming yourself with chemicals that are not intended to be ingested or are otherwise harmful to the body is also self-harm.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, whether it is mentioned above or not, try to seek help in whatever way you are able to. Sometimes using a hotline, talking to a friend, or journaling can make a world of difference.

The following links can be used to learn more about self-harm and the different types; they may also serve as a way to get help (e.g. hotlines in your country).

Crisis links
Safety Zone

Other links
Self-harm: the road to recovery
Debunking myths of self harm
Discussing self-harm with a loved one
Sexual self-harm
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