Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Self Harming

Self- harm is the act of deliberate Infliction of harm and injury onto yourself and can take many forms including: cutting, burning, scratching, stabbing and bruising and may take place sporadically or regularly. People engage in self- harm behaviours for many different reasons, but it is recognised as an outward expression of emotional distress. Self- harm behaviours are often a way of coping with difficulties and may serve to: 

  • Legitimise feelings of pain
  • Gain a sense of control
  • Distract and bring a sense of relief
  • Manage unacceptable feelings
  • Punish oneself
  • Express shame and self-hatred
  • Overcome numbness and restore a capacity to feel
  • Externalise internal pain
  • Let others know something is not right

Often, self-harm behaviours come about through an inner turmoil (perhaps feeling powerless, trapped or without choice) or from experiences which are difficult to handle in the past or present. It is common for people who self-harm to feel isolated and lacking in support and unable to express their distress in a healthy way. 

Understanding your self- harm

It is useful to understand your self- harm use by talking it through with a trained health professional who can help to explore the emotional distress attached to the behaviours.  

It may be important to consider alternative coping strategies that are more constructive. There are a number of alternative methods that may provide similar relief but with less risk of lasting or damaging harm. Some of these are:  

  • Keeping an elastic band or hair band on your wrist and pinging this against your skin.
  • Squeezing ice- cubes in your hands or holding them against your skin.
  • Using red pen or ink to draw the appearance of cuts on your skin.
  • Using makeup to create the appearance of bruising.
  • Screaming into/ punching a pillow or soft bedding.
  • Having a cold shower.
  • Intense exercise

Harm minimisation

Understanding the reasons for your self- harm use is a good step towards knowing what you can do to minimise risk and keep yourself safe. The below steps can and strategies can reduce any additional risk. 

  • If you are using any implements to inflict wounds upon yourself, ensure that they are clean and sterile before use. This reduces the risk of introducing infection to the body. 
  • Clean wounds with anti- septic wipes and monitor for signs of infection.  
  • Use pressure to stem any bleeding and hold wound above your heart to slow flow of bleeding. 
  • It is important to care for injuries appropriately and seek medical help if required. If you cause any heavy bleeding that won’t stop, cause any loss of consciousness or observe signs of a concussion or cause any other wound that you are concerned about, it’s important that you seek immediate help. If you are unsure, you can call NHS 111 and seek advice. In life threatening emergencies, always call Community Safety (on campus) on 024765 22222 or 999 (off campus).  

It’s important to be compassionate to yourself if you do use self- harm to cope. It’s common for people to experience guilt or shame after engaging in these behaviours. It can be useful to log self-harming situations to monitor what prompts the thoughts and emotions. 

Safety planning

You are welcome to use the below templates to draw upon your support resources and map out your own safety plan.

My Safety Plan 

Keep this plan where you can find it easily for when you need it. This is designed to help you work out some coping strategies to use if you are distressed and are thinking about harming yourself. 

What warning signs can you spot that you may not be in control of your feelings?  

What things can I do to reduce risk and keep me safe?  

What ways of coping have you used in the past that could help you now?  

What are alternative thoughts to the negative thoughts? What is another way of looking at this situation?  

What you would say to a friend who was feeling this way...  

What could others do to help? 

Who you could call for help or support:  

A safe place you could go to:  

If I still feel unsafe or at risk to yourself or others…  

Useful help lines  Useful apps 

Samaritans – 08457 909090 “Stay alive”  

Mental Health Matters “Calm harm” 

If you are on campus and need help, please call campus security: 024 7652 2082 or 2222 (in an emergency) 

Getting Support

Wellbeing and Student Support are available for students at the University of Warwick:

Medical support and information can be obtained from GP practices of health centres

For more information:

Self-help references

The following references are available from the University Library either in hard copy, CD or ebooks. Most are readily available to buy either in bookshops or over the internet. There are also a limited number of books in the Learning Grid and the Bio-med Grid.

Self-harm – perspectives from personal experience


Chipmunka / survivors speak out

Healing the Hurt Within : Understand Self-injury and Self-harm, and Heal the Emotional Wounds {3Rd Ed.}

Jan Sutton


Life After Self-harm : A Guide to the Future

Ulrike Schmidt, Kate M Davidson


Cutting – the risk (self-harm, self-care and risk reduction)

National self harm network

National self harm network

Cutting: understanding and overcoming self-mutilation


W W Norton

The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites