How to portray a character who self-harms (obvious trigger warnings apply–be safe!) (Repost)

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is the act of inflicting harm on yourself. This could be in many different forms, and even though cutting is the most well known, people self-harm in many different ways. Self-harming and inflicting pain on yourself can result in adrenaline being pumped through your system which can make a person feel euphoric and some people do this because it can physically make them feel better. However, the release is temporary and people find that they have to do more and more harmful things for the same release. It is an addiction, like any other.

Reasons for self-harm

As I said above, there are many reasons, but I will list some here (and some people that self-harm do it for more than one reason in this list)

  • They could be experiencing depression, or another mental illness
  • It could be in order to feel physical pain instead of the emotional pain that they are feeling (as this can numb it)
  • Because of a sudden traumatic event that they find it hard to make sense of, or trauma in their past such as abuse or loss of someone close to them
  • Because they’re angry
  • Because they feel numb or like they’re dead inside and cutting means they can feel something even if it’s a physical something
  • Because they’ve been doing it for such a long time that they’re addicted and it’s a compulsion
  • As a cry for help (not like attention-seeking, just because sometimes people in emotional distress don’t know how to ask for help, so harm themselves as a way of showing people that they need help)

Types of self-harm

  • Cutting
  • Burning yourself
  • Lots of unprotected sex without taking any steps to protect yourself against STDs
  • Reckless driving
  • Neglecting hygiene such as not showering, brushing teeth for days
  • Eating too much/ eating too little
  • Putting yourself in harms way with the intention of getting yourself hurt such as getting really drunk with strangers
  • Doing things that could end up with broken bones such as throwing yourself down stairs
  • Hair pulling
  • Skin picking
  • Self-poisoning, not with the intention of killing yourself but just to be in pain or to be knocked out. (this is the most common reason that people end up in an emergency room because of something self-inflicted)

There are many ways, and these are just a few. Don’t fall into the trap of always writing your characters as cutting, because self-harm, as seen above, can be done in so many different ways.

My personal experience with self-harm

I began pulling my hair out at a young age, resulting in a few bald spots on my head. As I got older, I started cutting as well as burning myself with cigarettes. I also began overdosing not to kill myself, but because it would make me pass out for days and because my brain and thoughts were too painful and it felt like a lesser of two evils. I remember when I was younger (as I don’t self-harm anymore) that sometimes I would just cut because I hadn’t done it in a few hours and I craved the feeling of the adrenaline whenever I felt the sharp pain.

As I got older, the more I self-harmed, the more I craved it until I could not even stop myself from doing it. The reasons I self-harmed were very complicated. I had been bullied at school, grew up in an unstable home where I had been abused, and also from a young age found it very hard to deal with any emotion I was feeling (whether it was a positive or negative emotion).

Things to include that your self-harming character could be experiencing

  • Your character, if they cut or burn themselves will most likely have to wear long sleeves even in summer (this is actually how a teacher worked out I had been cutting)
  • They may tend to become more introverted, spending more time in their room or where they feel safe
  • Unexplained bruises or marks
  • Become more fascinated by sharp objects (I remember being almost hypnotised by blades, knives, etc., and a voice in my head would be saying “go cut yourself/hurt yourself”. I would also have visions in my head of the last times I did it, which would make me crave it more)
  • Becoming more and more unable to handle emotions and finding themselves getting angry or crying for very small things as when a person self-harms, they are not dealing with the strong emotions they are feeling so when confronted with a hard time


As well as the obvious–treating the immediate damage that has been done–such as stitches or putting dressings on wounds, the most effective treatments are treating the causes behind the self-harming. This could be through therapy, or medication if they are doing it because of a mental illness. There is no specific treatment for self-harm as so many people do it for so many different reasons. Even just the person having someone to talk to can help reduce the amount of incidents of self-harm. I was personally admitted to hospital because of the amount of harm I was inflicting on myself.

People that self-harm

Don’t forget when you’re writing that anyone can self-harm. Someone old, or young, the amount of males who are self-harming has increased a lot in the past 10 years, though it is more common for females to self harm. People from all over the world and from many different ethnicities and countries do, and the three countries with the highest mortality rate as a direct result of people who self-harm were: Lesotho (a country in Africa), Sri Lanka, and Swaziland.

If you do self-harm, please seek help, whether it’s speaking to someone you know like a friend, a teacher, a parent or calling a helpline that can be found by a Google search. You are not alone.

Thanks for sharing with us!! Your advice is very useful and informative! It was very brave of you to write about this and to share your experiences with such a large audience.

Want more suicide-prevention resources?

Go here: IT GETS BETTER (now also readable on my new site!)

Some important resources from that post if you don’t want to deal with going to a new page:

Depression tag

self harm
alternatives to self harm
if you already have, here’s how to care for injuries
understand self harm and how to stop
butterfly project (self harm prevention)
tips for stopping cutting
how to fade and cover scars
how to explain scars (avoid talking about visible scars)
just relapsed? read this.
need to see blood? cut a white screen.

Want a country by country list of suicide-prevention hotlines? Here are some more resources: helplines

The following sites also provide country-by-country lists of helplines available:

·         American Association of Suicidology

·         American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

·         Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Suicide Prevention

·         Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – Suicide Prevention

·         The Jed Foundation – Suicide Prevention

·         National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

·         SAMHSA – Suicide Prevention

·         Suicide Prevention at the Network for Good

·         Suicide Prevention Resource Center

·         Survivors of Suicide

·         Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program

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