The Connection Between Self-Harm and Self-Esteem

December 26, 2018 Kayla Chang

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Self-esteem and self-harm do have a relationship. While self-harm can stem from a wide variety of root causes, issues regarding self-esteem are often brought up in discussions as one possible culprit. It would be reductive to draw a straight line connecting self-esteem levels to self-harm activity, but it would be equally reductive to deny that a relationship between the two does, in fact, exist. 

The Direct Relationship Between Self-Harm and Self-Esteem

Sometimes, the connection between self-harm and self-esteem is obvious. Feelings of guilt and shame over a perceived moral failing can drive some to use self-harm as a tool for self-punishment

The feelings of guilt and shame can come also not from the perceived moral failing of an action/set of actions/lack of action, but from feeling fundamentally less than. In a way, this is trickier ground to navigate, as a person feels deserving of punishment simply by virtue of existing. 

The distinction between these two cases is not always clear and can overlap considerably. They both do show, however, that a direct (though not directly proportionate) relationship can exist between self-esteem levels and self-harm activity.

The Indirect Relationship Between Self-Harm and Self-Esteem

Sometimes, the connection is not so obvious. Self-harm can stem from mental illness, which is not the same as having low self-esteem. It can stem from an inability to communicate emotional pain, which again is not the same as having low self-esteem. There are many more examples of self-harm activity that lack a direct connection to self-esteem issues. 

But if we go back farther in our examination of the relationship between self-harm and self-esteem, we might encounter the question in the inverse form: would a person possessing high self-esteem ever turn to self-harm? 

Intuitively, most of us would answer no. That may be because even in cases of self-harm that do not directly involve self-esteem issues, there is a baseline lack of self-respect

Self-respect is related to — though not quite the same thing as — self-esteem. When the protective mechanisms of self-care and self-love and even self-esteem fail, self-respect prevents people from turning and acting against themselves. 

Those who self-harm could be said to be lacking, for whatever reason, in this buffering layer of protection that helps re-direct their anger/sadness/pain outward, away from themselves.

A person’s relationship with one’s self is a complicated and fragile one that takes a lifetime to understand and navigate. Figuring out ways of reconciling difficult views and opinions of yourself will be a significant cornerstone to recovering from self-harm

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2018, December 26). The Connection Between Self-Harm and Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Kayla Chang

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