Purpose of self-harm

Some people harm themselves because they don’t know how else to cope with pressures from family, school and peer groups. Extreme feelings such as fear, anger, guilt, shame, helplessness, self-hatred, unhappiness, depression or despair can build up over time. When these feelings become unbearable, self-harm can be a way of dealing with them.

Artwork by young people at 42nd StreetArtwork by young people at 42nd Street

Reasons young people have given for their self-harm include:

  • When the level of emotional pressure becomes too high it acts as a safety valve – a way of relieving the tension
  • Cutting makes the blood take away the bad feelings
  • Pain can make you feel more alive when feeling numb or dead inside
  • Punishing oneself in response to feelings of shame or guilt
  • When it’s too difficult to talk to anyone, it’s a form of communication about unhappiness and a way of acknowledging the need for help
  • Self-harm gives a sense of control that’s missing elsewhere in life

Some people self-harm with the intention of ending their life or they may be unsure about whether they want to survive, for example, taking an overdose and leaving it to fate to decide the outcome.

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