Hurting Yourself to Help Others as a Self-Harmer

May 13, 2021 Kim Berkley

As a self-harmer, you can easily become convinced that choosing to hurt yourself, rather than others, is the right thing to do. But if there's one thing I learned from my own self-harm experiences, it's that hurting yourself to help others rarely works out the way you hope it will.

Why We Hurt Ourselves to Help Others

Many people, not just self-harmers, fall prey to the fallacy that hurting yourself will somehow help others. Self-sacrifice is often portrayed nobly in fiction and nonfiction alike, and it can be tempting to interpret that lesson more broadly than it is meant to be. 

In certain situations, self-sacrifice is noble, even necessary. But we are not all soldiers offering up life and limb to protect our comrades. In everyday life, hurting yourself to help someone else will often just result in both of you hurting—which helps no one.

In my case, one of the lies I told myself when I began to self-harm was, "It's better this way."

I figured that if I was going to be in (emotional) pain anyway, it didn't matter if I suffered a little more (physically) as long as it enabled me to protect my friends and family.

What was I protecting them from? At the time, I believed that telling them what I was going through would only hurt them, too. I worried that speaking up would mean forcing them to share a burden I was convinced I would never be rid of. Since I didn't believe they could help, it seemed better to suffer alone than together.

Why Hurting Yourself to Help Others Doesn't Work

It took me a long time to recognize this self-deception for what it was. Sure, nobody knew that I was self-harming—but silence is not a cure for suffering. If anything, it feeds it.

Sometimes I lashed out at people for reasons they didn't—couldn't—understand. Other times, I withdrew, pretending to be sick with a migraine or a cold. In truth, I was heartsick and depressed.

Even though no one knew what was really going on, they still experienced hurt and worry because of it. Even when I was able to put up a believable facade, there was a part of me I felt I couldn't share. That put a distance between myself and others that, in some cases, I was never able to close.

When you're hurting, it's easy to miss the way your pain affects others—even when you don't directly share it with them. 

Hurting yourself to help others simply doesn't work. Pain, like a weed, tends to spread. Luckily, healing works in much the same way.

Even if you don't share the details of your recovery journey, the simple act of healing helps you to be kinder, more open, more generous. Once I began to get better, I spent less time sequestered in my room avoiding interaction and more time connecting with the people I loved. I stopped lashing out, stopped crying so often without explanation, stopped having to wear long sleeves in summer, and stopped having to make up lie after lie to hide the truth about my injuries.

In other words, the best thing you can do for your loved ones—and yourself—is to heal. Even taking a small step in the right direction, every day, can make a big difference.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2021, May 13). Hurting Yourself to Help Others as a Self-Harmer, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

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