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Cycle of self-harm

Self-harm can become a habit and then an obsession which takes over your life. Before you know it, you’re trapped in a cycle or circle of self-harm.

This diagram shows how:

Trigger event Bullying, stress from exams, disputes with family, problems with friends, stress at school.
Emotional pain Anger, stress, numbness, feeling of being worthless, feeling of hating themselves, feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone, distress, guilt.
Self-harm behaviour Cutting, scratching, burning, poisoning, pulling hair, banging
Result Calming down, sense of relief, feeling real, focussing on the present, feeling control, preventing suicide, getting it out.

Although self-harming can make you feel better for a while – because you’ve dealt with your emotions – you’ll soon have regrets, feel guilty, embarrassed or full of shame. You might struggle to work out why it is you feel like you do, and what’s making you do this. Someone else’s perspective to help you untangle your thoughts and emotions could really help.

Top tips for getting help

People illustration Be brave and find someone you trust to share your difficult feelings with. This is one of the first steps in starting to break the cycle. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!
When you’re tempted to self-harm, let your mind wander to some of our top tips for stopping self-harming and try distracting yourself with one of them.
Don’t despair if the cycle happens again (and again). You have to start by taking tiny steps in breaking the cycle. And each little step takes you closer to stopping.

More helpful information

The Young Minds website is a great place to start if you want to stop self-harming, as is ChildLine.
The Harmless website includes a section on young people with downloadable material.

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