9 Lesser-Known Ways to Self-Harm – More Than Just a Bad Habit?

ways to self-harm

photo by Seth Doyle

Do you sometimes do unkind things to yourself? But you aren’t sure if your habits are ways to self-harm, or just occasional lack of self- respect? 

What is self-harm, exactly?

Self-harm is also know as ‘self injury’. It is just what it sounds like – intentionally doing things that result in your body and bodily tissues being damaged.

[Are you reading this article because you want to self-harm? Did you know there are free helplines you can call, with volunteers who understand and want to talk to you? Find one here.]

Why would someone self-harm?

Usually it’s a way of coping (just not a very good one).

Self-harm is a way to externalise really overwhelming inner pain. When your thoughts are too crazy, or your emotions so big you feel you will explode, hurting yourself can move all that pain outside of you.

Of course the problem is that the relief is fleeting. Yes, for a couple of seconds as all your focus goes on causing yourself pain you forget about everything else. And for an hour or so after, you might feel pleasantly numb from the flood of chemicals your body releases when it feels threatened.

But then it’s over and you are back to being you, and now you might have a scar, or be otherwise disfigured.

So other ways to cope with emotional pain are much better (read our article on weird techniques that actually work when you feel like hurting yourself).

[Are you sick of hurting yourself? Is it time to talk to someone? Book a registered Skype therapist and chat from the safety of your own home.]

Hidden Forms of Self -Harm – Sound Familiar?

Before we get into lesser known forms of self-harm, let’s clarify the talked-about ones.

If you are doing any of the following, you are a self harmer:

  • cutting yourself or carving things into your skin
  • burning yourself with fire or chemicals
  • rubbing your skin to make ‘friction burns’
  • hitting or punching yourself
  • purposely bruising yourself.
self harm

Photo by Markus Spiske

9 Lesser known ways to self-harm

1. Hitting your body against other things.

You might not directly hit yourself. But if have a habit of punching brick walls that you know will damage your hands, or body slamming yourself into something with the intent of bruising your body and causing yourself  pain? Then it’s self-harm.

2. Hitting your head against a wall.

In children head-hitting is related to other conditions, like ‘rhythmic disorder’ and self soothing.

But if you are a teen or adult banging your head against the wall with the intent to hurt yourself, it is self-harm.

3. Hair pulling.

Remember, self-harm involves intentionally hurting yourself. 

Trichotillimania, or hair pulling disorder, is seen as different than self-harm. Sufferers don’t have the intent to hurt themselves, they have a compulsion to pull their hair, and can not always realise they are doing it.

But if you set out to cause yourself pain by pulling out your hair, and if it’s part of your repertoire of other things you do to hurt yourself? It would be self-harm.

4. Excessive tweezing of hairs.

This is usually  trichotillimania, not self-harm. But it’s possible to use tweezers to purposely hurt yourself and pull incorrectly to cause scabbing. If that is your intention, it’s self-harm.

5. Skin picking.

Again, this can be more an anxiety-based habit. If you realise you are doing it half way through, then it’s not self-harm as you didn’t intend to hurt yourself.

But if when you are upset you intentionally seek out any scabs or acne to aggressively pick at? And consciously choose to pick until it hurts and you are bleeding? You are self harming.

6. Self poisoning.

If it damages inner tissue, then it’s also self-harm. So if you are intentionally ingesting medication, alcohol, or toxic substances with the purpose of making yourself sick, it’s self harm. And it’s also really dangerous. It can result in liver damage or even death.

7. Making someone else hurt you.

It’s not self harm because you are not doing it, right? Wrong. If you plan it and then push the other person to hurt you, then you ARE doing it, just using another person’s hands. It’s still your intention that is the driving force. 

8. Having sex you don’t really want.

Some people might say this isn’t self-harm as it doesn’t damage your body tissues.

But in fact it does. Self-harming sex is usually unprotected (the person chooses dangerous behaviour) and can lead to STIs and infections, or the physical trauma of continuous abortions.

Secondly, it can involve purposely choosing to have sex that causes pain, such as a women having sex without being ready, or a man having sex even when he is raw and sore.

9. Deprivation.

This is a very hidden and yet possibly lethal form of self-harm. It can be as extreme as not drinking water for several days, or making yourself go out into cold conditions without proper clothes.

What do I do if this is me?

Self-harm is not to be taken lightly. If you are self-harming, it’s essential to seek support of some kind. If you have nobody to talk to, consider calling a free mental health help line (use our list of free UK helplines). The volunteers are happy to talk to you and won’t judge you.

And if you can, find a counsellor or psychotherapist. They can help you dig deep and process the upsetting experiences leading you to hurt yourself, and can also work with you to find new ways to cope.

Most colleges and universities provide either free or low cost counselling, and workplace insurance should cover a few sessions. Plus, you can find therapists for every budget these days.

Want the best therapist London has to offer? We connect you with very experienced therapists in central London offices. On a budget, or not in London, or even the UK? Our booking platform offers UK-wide therapists as well as Skype therapists you can talk to from anywhere. 

Still have a question about ways of self-harming or how to get help for it? Post in the public comments section below. 

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Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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