Shame Is Just Another Form of Self-Harm: How to Eliminate Both

Shame Is Just Another Form of Self-Harm: How to Eliminate Both


Self-harm is a term used to describe the act of engaging in a “deliberate injury to oneself”. Used synonymously with the phrase ‘self-injury’, actions that fall under this umbrella are those that are done with the intention of inflicting pain on the body. So many are faced with a vicious cycle of self-harm, secrets, and shame. In order to help ourselves and loved ones experiencing this, understanding the why and how to support in a positive, unbiased way will go a long way.

What Does it Mean?

It is crucial to identify the reasons behind self-harm. One may conceptualize self-harm as making the pain make sense. When working through emotional turmoil, it becomes difficult to tangibly understand what is going on in your body and in your mind. Self-harm is an action that has a beginning, an end, and an outcome. It offers a sense of control when everything else feels chaotic and out of reach. Ultimately, self-harm is a way of coping through emotional pain, sadness, anger and distress.

Rooted in punishment, self-harm connects to core beliefs like “I am a bad person” and “I need to be punished”. For those who self-harm there is this essence of feeling that “you deserve it”. There is a need to feel that physical pain or see the tangible mark as a representation of that belief.  Once self-harm has occurred, it acts as a temporary reset until the emotion or event we are struggling with bubbles up to the surface again.

Why is This Hard to Talk About?

Stigma and shame often stand in our way when talking about self-harm. Revealing or getting caught in a self-injurious act can lead to panic and even further verbal or emotional punishment from loved ones. The secret of self-harm becomes the thing that keeps us from asking for help. 

The first thing we need to release when working with self-harm is the shame surrounding the action. We cope in this way for a reason and there is no shame in the desire to soothe ourselves. The less we keep this secret, the more room we have to work through it. There is a reason and root to all action. The more we hide from truth, the longer it has a hold over us.

What Helps?

Harm reduction techniques are key to providing support. The more self-harm is openly discussed and fully understood, the less power this action has over us. Listed below are a few approaches that can be used to support prevention of self-harm.

  1. Emotion Regulation and Exploration. It goes without saying that emotions are hard! Finding a way to discuss openly and release in a positive way is the first step to releasing the hold that self-harm has over you. 
  2. Coping Techniques. There are a multitude of options out there that can support positive forms of coping. The key to finding and using coping techniques are: practice, solidifying 2-3 options that really work, and planning when to use them before the distress is too high. With anything new we learn, we have to do the work to implement it into our daily routine in order for it to take hold. There are plenty of options available, and it’s helpful to be proactive in having them ready. When using your coping techniques, find a couple that you enjoy before your distress reaches an unmanageable level. This will give your mind less to search for in the tough moments. Lastly, regulating breathing through the box technique will not work if we are already at a 10/10 on the distress scale. Plan when you want to use your techniques ahead of time and as soon as you start to feel that rise, that’s when we implement.
  3. Behavioral Chain Analysis. This technique is often used to map the process of what occurs before, during, and after the action of self-harm. This helps to explore the ritualistic nature of self-harm as it often has a routine with many steps. A behavioral chain analysis maps the thoughts and actions that take place at every step, which can then be used to create “interrupters” of the behavior. The chain can begin as early as identifying the triggering event, resulting emotion, and initial thought to self-harm. By doing this, positive coping techniques and support are put in place for you to halt the action at numerous steps. 

We need to be able to talk about self-harm in order to get help. The action can be scary, but the telling of it does not have to be. Release the shame, and with it, release the guilt. That is how to make the path toward healing. 

Would you like to talk to someone who can meet you where you are, without bringing guilt, shame, or judgment into the room? Explore our Lifeologie therapists who specialize in working with clients who struggle with self harm and see if we can connect you with a therapist near you. 

About Lifeologie

Lifeologie Counseling was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problems®. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie Counseling helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.