Attacking the Root Cause of Self-Harm

August 8, 2018 Kayla Chang

Your cause of self-harm is unique but finding your cause of self-harm, and dealing with it, helps you stop. Learn how to find and deal with your self-harm cause.

The root causes of self-harm are as varied as the people who are affected by it. Though self-harm is a problem in and of itself, it is often a response to an underlying stressor of some kind. The reason behind the stress is the cause of self-harm.

These stressors are unique to each person and can exist in any combination with other stressors as well as with the person’s genetic predispositions and personality. It would be inaccurate and damaging to rely too heavily on the reductive formula of cause-and-effect when discussing something as complex as self-harm. 

That being said, I have found it personally helpful to think of self-harm as a “tool” that helps me cope with whatever it is that I feel is too overwhelming or painful to deal with directly. While clearly more of a weapon than a tool, distancing the underlying issue this way can help give you a better perspective on the problem so that you are able to see and acknowledge more productive ways of coping with it. 

How to Identify the Root Cause of Self-Harm and Deal With It

The following is a brief, non-comprehensive list of some of the more common causes of self-harm that I have come across in my own experiences and the experiences of those I know. It is mainly meant to demonstrate the process of identifying the stressor, figuring out what function self-harm serves in coping with it, and finding alternative methods that perform a similar function. 

Self-Esteem Problems

Self-harm feels like an appropriate “punishment” for being worthless or otherwise lacking. It helps relieve the anxiety of the cognitive dissonance caused by the discrepancy between how you are treated and how you feel you believe you should be treated. 

Instead of lowering how you are treated to match how you believe you should be treated, reduce cognitive dissonance by elevating how you believe an unpunished you should be treated. Do this by evaluating what about yourself you believe needs improvement, knowing and accepting which of those things you can and cannot control, then taking concrete and measurable steps to address them. 


Self-harm relieves the tension of emotional anguish and/or revitalizes numbed emotions.

However, anything that causes an adrenaline rush will help with relieving both tension and numbness. Find safe and easy ways of inducing an adrenaline rush (such as playing video games or watching certain films) that mimics the one provided by self-harm. 


Self-harm parodies the vulnerability required to make real connections with other people. It is also used as a substitute for communication. 

Alternatively, figure out what of yourself you are most afraid of revealing to the world. If it is something you cannot change, figure out a way to communicate it in a way that is honest with the people you most want to connect with. This sense of control can give you the confidence and help foster the skills necessary to connect with other people. 

Your cause of self-harm may be more than one issue.

Oversimplified as this view of the process is, I hope it gives you an idea of where to begin in understanding your cause of self-harm or what it is that self-harm does for you, and how you can find ways that do the same thing, only better. 

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2018, August 8). Attacking the Root Cause of Self-Harm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Kayla Chang

You can find Kayla on Google+.

Leave a reply