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If you're self-harming

Self-harm means means anything that someone does to cause harm or injury to themselves. You might self-harm if you've experienced sexual violence.

Learn more about self-harm and alternative coping methods here.

People who have experienced rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault or another type of sexual violence sometimes self-harm.

Self-harm might include cutting, burning or hitting yourself. Or, you might drink a lot or take drugs. Some people eat too much or too little, or diet and exercise too much.

You might do this for a number of different reasons, which we will talk about below.

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Whatever the reason, we know that self-harm is often a coping mechanism to help with difficult feelings or the impact of trauma.

But, self-harming can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Remember we're here for you and you can talk to us if you are struggling.


Why might I self-harm?

There are many reasons why you might self-harm after experiencing sexual violence. 

Controlling emotions

Sometimes we experience emotions at times when we aren't ready to deal with them or feel it's inappropriate - for example, crying at work or school.

You might self-harm to use pain as a way of suppressing or distracting yourself from your emotions. 

Expressing emotions

When our emotions become too much for us or too painful, it can feel like a pot about to boil over.

Causing ourselves harm can be a way of relieving some of this pain and can give us a sense of relief, like taking the lid off the pot of boiling water.

Feeling emotions

When we feel numb, experiencing pain is a quick way of proving to ourselves that we can still feel and are still alive.

Punishing yourself

Feelings of shame or guilt can sometimes make us believe we deserve to feel pain.

Control

As well as controlling emotions, self-harm can give you a feeling of control over your life more widely.

After experiencing sexual violence it's common to feel out of control. Through self-harm you might feel you can bring control back into your life - for example, by choosing how you hurt yourself and when.

Understanding why you self-harm

The reasons why you self-harm might not be obvious. But keeping a diary might help you understand more and reflect on your feelings.

Keeping a diary can be a useful tool to help you understand why you self-harm.

It can help you identify patterns and better understand which feelings or situations cause you to self-harm.

You can use these answers to identify why self-harm is and isn't effective for you, helping you to identify alternative ways to cope.

How to keep a diary

Think about answering the following:

  • I self-harmed because I felt …
  • The situation that caused me to self-harm was…
  • Before I self-harmed I…
  • After I self-harmed I...
  • What I like about self-harm is…
  • Self-harm helped me to cope by…

You can use this diary template to get you started.

Download the diary template

Want to stop self-harming?

If you want to stop self-harming, here are suggestions to help.

Alternatives to self-harm

It can be hard to stop self-harming immediately.

If you're using a dangerous method of self-harm. you might be able to start by replacing it with a safer one, like:

  • Holding ice or plunging your hands into cold water.
  • Taking a cold shower.
  • Writing positive words on the parts of your body where you normally harm yourself.
  • Eating spicy food.

Distraction techniques

Distraction techniques can help you resist the urge to self-harm until the feeling passes. 

Try writing a list of suggestions you can refer to when you feel the urge to self-harm. It might include reading, listening to music, drawing or colouring, watching television, cleaning/tidying, or playing with a pet. 

Other ways to express emotions

To stop relying on self-harm, you might need an alternative way of expressing emotions.

See our list of suggestions here.

Use an app

The teenage mental health charity stem4 has developed the free app Calm Harm, which helps you avoid self-harming by completing activities. 

Treating the cause, not the symptom

Ultimately, we self-harm in response to a feeling. You can reduce your self-harm by understanding the feelings behind it and by working towards feeling better. This will take time, but you are not alone.

We have resources you can use to understand your feelings.

You can also talk to us here or visit your your local Rape Crisis Centre for support.

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