Why do people self harm?

The majority of people who harm themselves are struggling with intolerable distress or unbearable situations. A person will often struggle with difficulties for some time before they self-harm.

Common problems include:

  • physical or sexual abuse
  • feeling depressed
  • feeling bad about themselves
  • relationship problems with partners, friends, and family
  • being unemployed, or having difficulties at work

People may be more likely to harm themselves if they feel:

  • that people don’t listen to them
  • hopeless
  • isolated, alone
  • out of control
  • powerless – it feels as though there’s nothing they can do to change anything.

Research suggests that self-injury is more likely to happen if a person is using alcohol or drugs – it may feel to them that these are as out of control as the rest of their life. Self-injury carried out under the influence of alcohol or drugs can significantly increase the risks of potential harm as people might cause more injury than they had intended (for example cutting deeper than planned, cutting a tendon, muscle or artery when this is not the intention etc.)


Not all of these reasons may apply to a person who self-injures. They are just the ones most commonly known, and for each individual the reasons are unique to them.