About Self-harming

Learn ways to self-care and remember, self-care is not selfish it is self-love

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.


There is a common misconception that self-harming behaviours are exclusive to young Caucasian women.  Although research shows this problem is rampant within that cohort, it is not exclusive to them.  Anyone can be prone to self-harming behaviours, especially in our community, however, this is rarely seen or reported because of taboos and stigmas surrounding mental health issues.  Read one young woman’s story about struggles with eating.

Yesterday I had a live broadcast conversation with Patrick Inguza of Hot 96 and we barely scratched the surface on this issue.

Self-harming is the act of deliberately and consciously inflicting harm on yourself.  These include acts such as cutting, burning your skin, hitting yourself, indulging in excessive alcohol intake, overeating or under-eating.

In this post, I’ll highlight some factors that can lead to self-harm, how to spot if someone you care about is self-harming, and how to offer support.

According to research, some people have described self-harm as a way to: –

  • Express something that can’t be described in words
  • Turn something invisible into something tangible
  • Change emotional pain into physical pain
  • Reduce overwhelming feelings and emotional thoughts
  • An outlet for stress or tension
  • Have some control over internal turmoil and feelings
  • Escape traumatic memories e.g., childhood abuse, bullying
  • Punish their bodies (placing blame on body for something that happened and therefore it deserves punishment).
  • Express suicidal tendencies without taking their lives

However, some research has shown this doesn’t work, instead it exacerbates existing problems because the root cause of the problem hasn’t been addressed.

Some of the reasons or factors that can lead to self-harming behaviours: –

  • Childhood traumas – sexual abuse, excessive corporal punishments, school yard bullying
  • Work or school related pressures
  • Loss of job and income i.e., money worries
  • Inability to go through proper grief over death, loss of relationship, loss of job etc
  • Low self-esteem
  • Homophobia or sexism
  • Difficult feelings
  • Difficult home life or toxic environment
  • Unexpected changes e.g., school change, job change

How to help yourself if self-harm urges become rampant: –

  • Identify the triggers – what is it that makes you believe the only way to release pressure or tension is only possible through self-harm.  Once you identify what triggers, adopt skills that can alleviate the triggers and seek professional help.
  • Distract yourself – make a list of activities that you can adopt to distract the thoughts of self-harm, e.g., taking long walks, jogging, running, exercise.  Shout at the wall or dance like no one is watching while shaking your body vigorously but safely.
  • Listen to music that soothes your soul and calms your mind.
  • Let yourself cry.
  • Confide in a trustworthy person.
  • Practice breathing exercises.
  • Declutter your living space.
  • Take cold showers.
  • Some people have said, wearing an elastic band on their wrist and snapping it when the urges came actually distracts their mind.
  • Create a selfcare kit – put things that puts you in great spirits and look at them when an urge surfaces.

How to tell if someone you care or love is self-harming: –

  • Change in behaviour and lack of interest in once pleasurable activities.
  • Inappropriate dressing e.g., wearing long sleeved clothes in very hot weather.
  • Avoiding situations where parts of their body maybe exposed e.g., swimming
  • Isolation or withdrawing from daily activities or social events.
  • Low mood plus aggressiveness
  • Tearfulness
  • Poor appetite or sleeping habits.
  • Indulging in risky behaviours e.g., abusing drugs or alcohol or sexual promiscuity.
  • Lack of energy or motivation.

If you suspect someone is self-harming, there are things you can do to offer hope and support, and there are things you shouldn’t do: –

  • DO offer support and use kind words e.g., tell them what you love about them.
  • DO listen to them.
  • DO let them know and assure them that they are always in control of the any decisions
  • DO NOT judge or blame
  • DO NOT label them e.g., telling someone ‘You must be crazy to hurt yourself’..
  • DO NOT accuse them of attention seeking

If you have overwhelming urges to hurt, take time and be patient with yourself, healing and recovery take time, commitment, and patience.  Learn ways to self-care and remember, self-care is not selfish it is self-love.

If any of the issues discussed in this post cause you worry or concern, please seek professional help immediately.


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  1. Well done for recognising the behaviour is more detrimental to your mental health than it is helpful. That is a great first step. Keep up. Find ways to distract yourself or adopt a more helpful habit e.g. walking or jogging. I’m here if you need further advice. Use the contact us on this page or find us on FB

  2. Thank you so much for this information on self harm, I am in the process of recovery. For long before I started sinking into stress I was never a smoker. Once I started sinking into stress levels after loosing my family, failed relationship, poor business decisions etc it was not long before I could do a packet plus in a day, just to make my chest feel the pain that I was dealing with mentally. I could not sleep without smoking, when I woke up 1st thing was to smoke before anything else, hygiene levels were at my lowest ever. Thank God I noticed some of my triggers and I am still working on them.

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