15 Behaviors We Don't Always Recognize Are Self-Harm

Sometimes, self-harm doesn’t “look” like self-harm at all.
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15 Behaviors We Don’t Always Recognize Are Self-Harm was originally published on The Mighty.

By Juliette Virzi

When people talk about “self-harm,” they’re usually referring to self-mutilation behaviors like cutting. But cutting is not the only way people self-harm — in fact, sometimes self-harm doesn’t “look” like self-harm at all.

Mighty contributor Catherine Renton wrote eloquently about this in her piece, “The Behavior I Didn’t Realize Was Actually Self-Harm.” Renton realized the casual sex she engaged in was actually a way she had been harming herself. She wrote,

Self-harm isn’t always about causing physical pain. It’s continually tugging at that thread that will cause you to unravel. Sadly, what can start as fairly innocuous behavior can lead to more serious harm and even attempts at suicide.

Self-harm doesn’t always manifest physically, and self-destructive behavior can crop up in areas of our lives we may not be aware of.

Maybe you put everyone else’s needs above your own to the point of burnout so frequently, it’s a way you are hurting yourself with or without realizing it. Maybe you tend to push people away, and in sabotaging your relationships, you are actually subconsciously self-sabotaging. Or maybe you use outwardly “healthy” behaviors like exercise to extreme excess and end up hurting yourself.

We wanted to know what behaviors people engaged in that they realized were actually self-harm, so we turned to our Mighty community to share their experiences. You can read what they shared with us below.

It’s important to remember not all of the behaviors listed are automatically self-harm. For example, avoiding going to the doctor may be the result of a struggle with anxiety, not self-harm. Often what makes a behavior self-destructive is the harmful thought process behind the behavior.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Overspending

“Spending money. I don’t mean to. Actually when I’m not depressed I’m very frugal. But when my depression kicks in, I always buy things. A lot of it has do with self-image too. I think if I have nice things, I will feel better about myself. Then there is that part of me that just wants to fill that void. This is so harmful because erratic spending makes me feel worse when I realize I ‘wasted’ money. Then I descend into the cycle all over again.” — Philomena R.

“Buying things I really don’t need to fill a void. When I’m buying, I’m happy that moment, but when I run out of money or look at the things I brought that I really don’t need, I feel bad.” — Alicia A.

2. Isolating yourself.

“Actively isolating. I stay home all the time, even when I know it would be good for me to get out and do something. My health issues make me feel like nobody would want to accommodate me if I wanted to go somewhere, so all I ever do is grocery shopping and go home. I’m alone or with my kids all the time.” — Suzy J.

3. Having more casual sex than usual.

“Convincing myself that my hypersexuality is actually just me being in control of my own body and embracing who I am when sometimes it’s a negative coping skill and it leaves me empty and lonely and feeling unfulfilled.” — Clarice S.

“I will trade access to my body for someone to just hold me for a few minutes. If/when he hurts me, it’s because I believe I deserve it. “ — Missa D.

4. Putting everyone else’s needs before your own.

“One destructive behavior people don’t think of as self-harm is putting others needs before your own. An example is friends who want to talk late at night. Even though I need to sleep for work, school and kids in the morning, I will continue to talk to them, because I don’t want them to feel alone. Or I’ll have bills of my own to pay, but my friend’s water is getting shut off, so I give them my own bill money to pay their bills, and I’m left scrambling to get money.” — Esther P.

5. Eating too much or too little.

“I binge eat. I lose all mindfulness of what I’m eating and will continue to eat until I can’t any longer. Then, I begin self-loathing and hating myself for what I’ve done.” — Rebecca B.

6. Allowing toxic people into your life.

“I will allow toxic people back into my life constantly because I feel as though I deserve the way they treat me. I have this notion that I am evil and deserve punishment so I do that by letting toxic people stay in my life.” — Caitie A.

7. Putting yourself in risky situations.

“Generally risky behavior, such as going out by myself during the night in a bad neighborhood, and placing myself in a position where I feel anxious.” — Chloe L.

8. Watching things to make yourself feel worse on purpose.

“Watching emotionally draining TV shows or movies. I’ll intentionally search Google for movies that are depressing or about suicide to make me feel worse than I am already.” — Hannah D.

9. Scratching.

“I scratch and scratch and scratch. I will scratch my arms raw or I’ll pull my hair. I told my counselor this once and he dismissed it and said that self-harm is only when you draw blood.” — Alysha P.

10. Avoiding going to the doctor.

“Continually avoiding the doctors when I’ve seriously injured myself and could do more damage. Honestly, I’ve had bad experiences at the doctors and try to avoid it as much as possible.” — Candace C.

“Not doing anything. Giving up. Canceling appointments, not bathing or cleaning, skipping meds because it all seems so pointless. And doing it all in isolation to avoid being a burden.” — Autumn S.

11. Sabotaging important relationships.

“I hurt the people I love. I destroy my relationships and my life because I don’t think I deserve anything good. So I just ruin everything.” — Angela W.

“My destructive behavior is pushing people away with my erratic and emotional outbursts. I feel strong feelings, sometime justified and sometimes not. I become triggered and I lash out. I’ve lost friendships and relationships over it. I’ve quit jobs because of it. It’s my own ‘self-harm.’” — Mande M.

“Telling my friends to leave me. I recently realized I do this. I will say ‘crazy’ things in order to push them away. They haven’t left me yet, but I do feel as though our relationship has changed.” — Kat W.

12. Excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

“For me it’s excessive drinking of alcohol. I drink more heavily when I am worse in my depression, because the alcohol gives me a temporary mood improvement and makes it easier to keep my mask of happiness on around those who care about me.” — Liv W.

“I think one of the things I do is self-medicate. Whether it is pot or alcohol. I don’t really see it as self-harm at the time — that is until a few days later when I crash into another depressive episode and realize what I have done.” — Bethany M.

13. Eating or drinking things you are allergic to.

“Drinking milk although I’m not supposed to because I’ll get extremely sick.” — Shyian G.

14. Punishing yourself by not dressing for the weather.

“Sometimes, in the cold, I would force myself to keep from putting on extra layers to keep warm for a time. Telling myself to just give in to the cold. I used it as a punishment. It didn’t hurt, but I really don’t enjoy being cold. Not ‘winter cold,’ anyways. Or, when it’s hot, I don’t take off my extra layers. I feel closed in when I’m really hot. I get claustrophobic in lots of situations, especially with heat, so I use my discomforts as a punishment for myself since I can’t allow myself to harm myself in the same ways I used to. Same idea, just different weather. And at the end of the day, it still isn’t good enough… I’m working on resisting those things, and trying to practice self-care. And sometimes the most I can do is brush my hair and wash my face, but it’s still something.” — Camryn D.

15. Over-exercising.

“Overtraining in the gym. People think because you’re active… that you’re actually doing well.” — Candy J.

“Over-exercising. People tend to think of it as a healthy coping skill, but I abuse it — resulting in overuse injuries and dangerous energy imbalance.” — Nika B.

More from The Mighty:

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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