About Self-Harm – Part 2 – A Way of Coping

Welcome to part 2 of our series about self-harm.  Last week we looked at the basics for self-harm, today we’re going to go deeper.  For me and for many others, it’s a coping mechanism, but why do people do it?  Today we’re going to look at different reasons behind why people self-harm.  More specifically, we’re going to look at the reasons that I have for self-harming.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

A Coping Mechanism

Self-harm is a coping mechanism for a lot of people. It’s a way of managing their condition, whether depression or anxiety, on a regular basis and, as horrible as it may be to hear, it’s one that is surprisingly effective.  Here are four reasons that I have for doing it, which I shall break down in just a moment:

  1. Self-Loathing
  2. Distraction Technique
  3. A Way of Feeling
  4. Physical Evidence

There you have it, my four reasons.  For some people these reasons will translate into their own story but others may feel only a couple of these or none of these at all, citing different reasons.  Let’s unpack them, shall we?


This one is possibly the easiest for people to get.  See, whenever I’m on a particularly bad day, I blame myself for not being able to do things that I believe I should be able to do. Whether it’s getting out the flat or making a simple phone call or coping with one of my darker days, all these things can weigh on my mind until I get frustrated and angry with myself.  It’s easily done.  Most of the time, I’m angry before I’ve even realised it.

To put that into perspective, let’s look at the phone calls. Nowadays, more often than not, I can’t make simple phone calls.  People like my parents and one or two friends will get phone calls but anything else, be it calling other friends or the local council or the estate agents or anything like that, is an impossible task for me.  I almost physically can’t make myself pick up the phone.

Why the frustration?

I used to work in a call centre!

Ridiculous, right?  Well no, there are medical reasons for why I can’t pick up the phone, every one of them stemming from my depression and my anxiety.  Still, you would think that someone who worked in a call centre for a bank could still pick up the phone and make phone calls.  After all, I did it for a living!

Now you see where self-loathing would come in. Combine frustrations and angers with poor self-worth (check out my posts on self-worth here and here if you haven’t already) and you have the perfect cocktail for me commencing my self-harming journey.

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A Distraction TechniqueYou have no idea how much pain runs through my veins.

This one is best explained with an example.  Imagine, for a moment, that you have a blinding migraine.  Your head just won’t stop throbbing. Nothing you’re doing is working, the headache just keeps persisting.

Suddenly you stub your toe on the door.  For that moment, no matter how brief, your headache is forgotten because you’ve hurt your toe.  The pain in your toe is a distraction factor.

That’s where self-harm comes in.

No, I don’t have persistent headaches.  What I do have a dark thoughts, negative thoughts and feelings that threaten to drag me under.  I feel as though I’m drowning on a daily basis.  Sometimes the only way to break the cycle, particularly on the bad days, is to use distraction techniques. Ideally these would be things like computer games or films but they tend to work better on the better days.  On the darkest days, self-harm is the only successful distraction technique.

But why does it work?

Simply put: inflicting pain is a way of distracting yourself because you have to focus on what you’re doing.  I’m focusing on hurting myself while not doing damage that could be fatal.  The sharpness of the pain also serves to focus me somewhat.  As bad as it may be, it works.

A Way of Feeling

When I’m caught in a depressive spiral, more often than not there is a complete void inside of me.  Think of it like a black hole, sucking the motivation, enjoyment, enthusiasm and happiness out of everything, leaving nothing but an empty shell behind.  In the majority of days, that is how I’m feeling: numb and empty.

Ask yourself: what is the quickest way of feeling something?  Before I turned to self-harm, I tried horror films, thrillers and comedies in an attempt to get some kind of feeling in me.  Unfortunately the vast majority of these didn’t work.  At least, not on the worst days.

So I turned to pain.

Pain is 100% tried and tested to get me to feel.  After all, it’s difficult to naturally block out pain, so it’s a reliable way of feeling.  It’s a physical sensation that reminds me that I can still feel, which makes it an effective way of breaking the depressive cycle, the same way the distraction technique works.

Again, not the best but it works.


This one is the one that some people get immediately but others take a little time to process.  A desire for evidence is often the one battle that I face more than any other.  See, one of my biggest struggles with mental health is that it is exactly what it says on the tin: mental.  Unfortunately there are very few physical symptoms that you can notice yourself.  If your appetite changes because of depression, people will notice your weight fluctuate but, unless you’re super observant, you won’t notice it yourself.

So I go for evidence.

If I had a broken leg, I would be able to see it.  Cutting myself leaves scars, scars that act as a physical, evidential reminder that I’m ill.  It proves to me that it’s real, that it’s not all in my head (even though, realistically, that’s exactly where it is).  It’s a way of reminding myself that my struggle is there and that I’m fighting to get better.

It’s evidenced.

Next Week

There you have it, the four reasons why I self-harm.  As I mentioned last week, some people do it for attention and you’ll notice I’ve left that off this list.  That’s partly because I don’t do it for attention – not the negative kind, at any rate, as I know I’m drawing attention to it now – but it’s also because attention-seeking is the topic for next week’s post in the series.  Come back next week to see me debunk that myth in more detail.  In the meantime, any questions then just shout!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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