Self-harm is far more common than a lot of people think. All sorts of people injure themselves. Often, they carry on successful careers or look after families, and there is little outward sign that anything is wrong. Other times, it can completely take over someone’s life, even leading to hospitalisation.
There is a common myth that everyone who self-harms must have been abused as a child, but although there often is a link between child abuse and self-harm, this is certainly not always the case. There are many self-harmers who have never been abused, who have grown up in happy and supportive families.
There are some other trends. As well as the link with abuse, there seems to be a very definite link with eating disorders and other struggles, which we have listed on our Related Struggles page. Some self-harmers may have experienced damaging relationships or violent assaults as adults, but for others there is no such obvious trauma. Many have reported that they never really learned how to communicate how they felt, perhaps due to neglect, or maybe just because they had a shy personality. Some people are just particularly sensitive and find just getting through every day life traumatic. There also seems to be a link to particularly high achievement, where stress is expressed through physical injury.
Self-harm seems to be more common among women than men. This is partly because men are more likely to express strong feelings – such as anger – outwardly.
Many people who self-harm believe that they are the only person in the world to behave in this way. Fear and shame can cause many people to keep their self-harm a secret for many years, which means that no one knows how big the problem really is. However, where it is acceptable to talk about it, many people – women in particular – will admit to having self harmed at some point in their lives.