Self-Harm: A Misunderstood Act

By Argie Dabrowski 

Self-harm is a deliberate, physically-harmful act against one’s own body. This could come in the form of direct physical harm, such as cutting or burning, or self-destructive, reckless behavior, such as risky sexual activity or overconsumption of drugs and alcohol. Self-harm does not just affect young people, but also men and women of any age. It is frequently misunderstood, making it harder for people who self-harm to seek help or for their loved ones to help them.

The most common misconception about self-harm is that it is only a way for people to get attention from others. People self-harm for a variety of reasons, the least of which is attention. For example, it is often used as a coping mechanism for those who suffer from mental illness or have experienced trauma. It can provide temporary relief for those affected by these conditions, followed often by feelings of guilt and depression. Because of this, many people who self-harm feel shame at their actions and go to great lengths to hide it, not at all using it to gain attention. Despite this, people can become addicted to self-harm. Some have described it as a way to create physical pain in order to distract them from their emotional pain. Others use it as a way to feel something during times of emotional numbness.

Another two misconceptions that go hand-in-hand are that all people who self-harm are trying to kill themselves and that if the wounds are not severe, then self-harming is not a serious issue. While sometimes, self-harm is a suicidal act, this is not always the case. As stated previously, it is often a coping mechanism, and in some extreme cases, can be what prevents suicide attempts. Suicidal feelings can lead to self-harm, but the action itself is not always a suicidal act. This does not mean self-harm should be disregarded, though. Any form of self-injury, regardless of severity, should be addressed and treated as a serious issue. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit


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