Self-harm is primarily a coping strategy and can provide a release from emotional distress and enable an individual to regain feelings of control.

Self-harm can be a form of self- punishment for feelings of guilt. It can also be a way to physically express feelings and emotions when individuals struggle to communicate with others. People who practice self-harm sometimes say that it helps them turn an emotional pain into a physical pain.  

Self-harm is common in people who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. If you do self-harm, you may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.

There are many ways that people can self-harm, but it frequently involves using something sharp to pierce or cut the skin.  Some activities such as drug use, excessive drinking and other risk-taking behaviours can also be used by a person to cause harm to themselves.

If you are self-harming as a way of coping and feel ready to ask for help, the first thing to do is to confide in someone about how you are feeling.  This can be a bit scary but also can be a huge relief to share your secret with someone. You may choose to talk with a friend or relative, but you could also talk to a professional like your GP or ISVA, who will support you to look at other ways to cope with your feelings.

Understanding your triggers to cutting or self-harming is a vital step towards recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves, you can learn other ways to cope, which can reduce your desire to hurt yourself. For example, if you self-harm to try and stay calm, you could find other ways to keep clam, such as listening to soothing music or practicing deep breathing.  If anger triggers you to self-harm, you might find exercise helpful as a coping strategy.

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