Trauma - understanding self harm

What is self-harm?

Deliberate self-harm, also called self-injury, is when people inflict physical harm on themselves, usually in private and without suicidal intentions. Some survivors of sexual assault or other trauma may use self-harm to cope with difficult or painful feelings.

Common forms of self-harm include:

  • Biting
  • Burning
  • Cutting
  • Hitting the body
  • Pulling out hair
  • Scratching and picking skin

While self-harm usually isn’t a warning sign for suicide, it can be a sign that someone has survived a serious trauma. They might be trying to numb the pain, feel a release, or regain a sense of control. Unfortunately, this relief is often short-lived, and the urge to self-harm can return, encouraging a cycle of self-harm that may cause long term damage, infection, and sometimes life-threatening medical problems.

What can I do if I am thinking about harming myself?

  • Leave the room where the object is that you were going to use for self-harm. If this is not possible, put the object out of your sight until the urge to self-harm passes.
  • Control your breathing. Take slow deep breaths, counting to five as you inhale, holding your breath for three more seconds, then counting to five as you exhale. Repeat this five to ten times.
  • Go outside and take a walk. Describe to yourself everything you see in great detail.
  • Write it out. Write down what you are thinking and feeling. For some people this helps them move through the difficult time. Other people like writing about something different—what they’re doing on the weekend, or what they’re looking forward to.
  • Send a text message to someone—it can be about anything. It can be about how you are feeling or something that seems unimportant. Keeping your hands busy is important, and texting a friend or loved one can help you get through this time.

Where can I find help and learn more?
If you or someone you care about is self-harming, Self-injury Outreach & Support (SiOS) has valuable resources that may help you through this difficult time.

CMHA: Self injury

Further Reading & Resources