Self Harm

All the information found within this section has been copied from around the internet, found in books or magazines and researched through available media. Most of the information is published with the permission of the authors. If you are the writer of any of the material and disapprove of it being published on an open forum then please email HAVOCA to have the contents removed. To all those who helped me with this section thanks!!
Most of the work is produced by:
Copyright 1998, Deb Martinson. Reproduction and distribution of this information is enthusiastically encouraged, especially distribution to medical personnel.


In spite of the title, there is no shame here. If you cause physical harm to your body in order to deal with overwhelming feelings, know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s likely that you’re keeping yourself alive and maintaining psychological integrity with the only tool you have right now. It’s a crude and ultimately self-destructive tool, but it works; you get relief from the overwhelming pain/fear/anxiety in your life. The prospect of giving it up may be unthinkable, which makes sense; you may not realize that self-harm isn’t the only or even best coping method around.

For many people who self-injure, though, there comes a breakthrough moment when they realize that change is possible, that they can escape, that things can be different. They begin to believe that other tools do exist and begin figuring out which of these non-self-destructive ways of coping work for them. This site exists to help you come closer to that moment.

Please try to make yourself safe before proceeding; some of these pages contain material that may temporarily intensify the urge to self-harm in some people. If you are struggling with the impulse to self-injure right now, you may want to skip directly to the self-help section. If you’re new to the concept of self-injury and don’t know where to start, try this quick primer on SI. The primer is also useful if you find some of the other pages here too technical.

How do you know if you self-injure? It may seem an odd question to some, but a few people aren’t sure if what they do is “really” self-injury. Answer these questions:

Do you deliberately cause physical harm to yourself to the extent of causing tissue damage (breaking the skin, bruising, leaving marks that last for more than an hour)?
Do you cause this harm to yourself as a way of dealing with unpleasant or overwhelming emotions, thoughts, or situations (including dissociation)?
If your self-harm is not compulsive, do you often think about SI even when you’re relatively calm and not doing it at the moment?

If you answer #1 and #2 yes, you are a self-injurer. If you answer #3 yes, you are most likely a repetitive self-injurer. The way you choose to hurt yourself could be cutting, hitting, burning, scratching, skin-picking, banging your head, breaking bones, not letting wounds heal, among others. You might do several of these. How you injure yourself isn’t as important as recognizing that you do and what it means in your life.

Self-injurious behaviour does not necessarily mean you were an abused child. It usually indicates that somewhere along the line, you didn’t learn good ways of coping with overwhelming feelings. You’re not a disgusting or sick; you just never learned positive ways to deal with your feelings.

My intent in these pages is to educate, to inform and, most of all, to help those who hurt themselves understand that they’re not crazy or freaks or evil. They’re human, people in pain who have developed a coping mechanism that, while maladaptive in terms of the “normal” world, works for them. Although learning other, better ways to cope is an admirable goal, beating them up emotionally for falling short of this or lapsing just perpetuates a vicious cycle.

This site does not encourage self-harm, nor does it condemn people for choosing to harm themselves. There is explicit material here, because over the years people have expressed great relief at seeing the words of others and finding out that other people do what they do and feel what they feel. They’ve also found it refreshing to be in a place that discusses this sensitive topic in a matter-of-fact way, without sensationalizing or dramatizing it.

As a way of life, self-injury is pretty ineffective. It’s not a terribly effective coping method, either, but it’s far from being the worst thing a person can do. I choose to radically accept reality — some people are going to hurt themselves regardless of what I say here. Polite euphemism and side-stepping aren’t going to lessen the odds of that. I strive to be genuine, compassionate, concerned, and realistic.

The information here comes from the five years I’ve spent listening to, talking with, and skills-coaching people who self-injure; peer-reviewed journals; books; internet surveys; and other sources (see references). Many people have told me their stories and contributed immensely to this information. Without their generosity, this page would be impoverished. If this section can help you feel as though your burden is no longer one you carry alone, I’ll feel I’ve repaid them.
Deb Martinson
July, 2001

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