Self-injury: What it is and how to stop

Self-injury is a negative coping strategy used to deal with intense emotions. Self-injury is a very private thing that’s usually hard to talk about.

Self-injury is purposely hurting your body without trying to kill yourself. People who self-injure might cut, burn, hit or bite themselves, pull out their own hair or pick at sores on their skin. People who self-injure are trying to deal with a lot of overwhelming emotions. Many people who self-injure say hurting themselves gives them an immediate sense of relief.

Why do people self-injure?

Self-injury is a negative coping mechanism. It's a way for some people to deal with intense feelings. The injuries give a voice to the emotional pain that the person is experiencing. Self-injury is often about wanting to have control when things feel chaotic. It might make you feel better in the moment, but the overpowering emotions usually come back. 

Some situations that might make a person want to self-injure are:

  • •    a bad breakup
  • •    divorce 
  • •    physical or sexual abuse
  • •    serious illness
  • •    major changes in school, friendships or living situation

What can I do to stop self-injuring?

Self-injury can be difficult to stop. It can be tough to explain to other people why you’re self-injuring. You can:  

  • •    Start small. Think of one person who you can talk to. It could be a friend, counsellor, teacher or coach. Kids Help Phone counsellors are always here if you need to talk.
  • •    Try writing in a journal if you’re not ready to talk. Keep track of what goes through your mind before and after you self-injure.
  • •     Write a letter explaining your feelings (you don’t have to send it).

How do I tell people I’ve been self-injuring? 

Planning out what you want to say can help you feel a lot less nervous. Here’s some things you can do to help you plan for reaching out:

  1. Decide who you want to talk to. It can be anyone you feel safe around.
  2. Tell them you have something important you need to talk about. Sit down and get comfortable.
  3. Start by saying something like, “It’s hard for me to talk about this, but I need help with something. I've been self-injuring and I'm ready to stop.” 
  4. Write down what you want to say if you're struggling to find the right words.
  5. Give them time to take it in. This may be a shock to the other person.
  6. Talking about it is important. The person you tell might not know exactly how to help, but they can support you if you choose to talk to someone else. 

You can always talk to a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.

Remember, you don’t have to handle this on your own. If you have just self-injured and you are hurt badly or bleeding a lot, call emergency services. 

If you’re scared to call, try talking to a safe adult. You can also call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868 or chat with us online. We can call an ambulance for you or help you calm down.

If you would like to know more about this topic, feel free to speak or chat with a counsellor.