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People of any age can turn to self-injury, it isn’t a ‘teen thing’.

Read this first before you hurtBefore discussing adult self-injury, we should first clarify what the word ‘adult’ might mean. Generally it might refer to age, and for the most part this article is aimed towards people who are older in years. But ‘adult’ can also relate to responsibility, and at LifeSIGNS we are only too aware that there are many younger people who live very adult lives, and who face responsibilities and challenges far beyond their years. So whatever your age, if you consider yourself to be living an adult life, then these words are for you.

We hope by now we’ve managed to get the message across that self-injury isn’t a ‘teen thing’, and that people of all ages might rely on self-injury in order to cope. While younger and older people share many of the same challenges in life and with their self-injury, there are also different difficulties to face by people at different stages in their life.

ManPerceptions

Because self-injury is often perceived as something ‘young people’ do, older adults can feel that it is something they should have ‘grown out’ of. These feelings can be even more difficult when an older person has turned to self-injury for the first time, rathe than discovering self-injury in their youth.

AdultThe media

Although increasingly willing to raise awareness about self-injury, the media still focus on young people far too much. Even television programmes that include a self-injury storyline either tend to be programmes aimed at young people, or focus on a young person self-injuring. This sends out an inaccurate message, and increases feelings of isolation in older people who self-injure.

ManLess help

If you are older, it might feel that there are fewer organisations out there that can help you. There seems to be a lot of mental health and support related organisations that cater to people under 25; but if you’re over 25 it can be more difficult to find somewhere that you feel you ‘belong’. Often, funding for projects and support services is literally ring-fenced for the government’s or sector’s definition of ‘young people’, meaning that organisations are more likely to get funding / budgets if they develop services for young people.

Resources, funding, and the attitudes of some healthcare professionals, may make it more difficult for older people to obtain the professional help they need.

Young adults, once they hit a certain age, may find they lose vital support and resources that they had been relying on.

CoupleFriends and loved ones

Friends / loved ones of adults may be less likely to be educated surrounding the subject of self-injury, making it more difficult for an adult to bring up the subject with loved ones.

Also, whereas young people are encouraged to talk about their self-injury with parents and loved ones, adults have to consider just who they can turn to.

FatherResponsibilities

Adults, in general, have more responsibilities than young people. Whereas young people are usually the ones who are cared for, quite often adults find that they are only ‘carers’ and are not ‘cared for’ themselves. This not only means that they may receive less support, but it also means they have a responsibility to maintain their caring roles, while attempting to also care for themselves.

When a young person finds themselves in a caring role, the burden can be even greater. They are at a time of their lives when they are supposed to be the one being cared for, and yet while their friends might be living the ‘normal’ life that young people need, they find they are forced to take on adult responsibilities. This is damaging not only because they tend to miss out on the ‘fun’ side of youth necessary for emotional balance and wellbeing, but also because they don’t yet have the life experience needed to cope with such responsibilities.

This is also true for young people who although may not have to care for others, neither are they cared for themselves. Some young people are left to fend for themselves, without the support, nurturing and guidance necessary for emotional balance, growth and wellbeing. It’s not surprising that life can feel overwhelming.

Shame and secrecy

Considering all these matters, shame and secrecy, while common in anyone who self-injures, may be even more burdensome for older people.

Adult ManTime

Adults who are juggling careers / families / finances may have less time for themselves than some younger people, making it more difficult for them to engage in hobbies and activities that can enhance health and happiness and provide much needed distraction.

Similarly, young people forced to cope with adult responsibilities will not have the time they need for themselves. They may have to care for others, or they may have to juggle school with a job and household responsibilities. We don’t mean the usual responsibilities that a young person might expect, such as household chores, helping care for younger sibblings occasionally, or working to earn money for themselves. We’re talking about people who run their households, or are the sole carer for another person, or who are forced to work in order to financially support others. These people are far less likely to have the time they need to care for themselves.

The feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of time can be even more enhanced for young people in these situations, because they are only too aware that their lives are not the norm, and that their peers are leading a far more care-free life.

GrandfatherDrivers

Because of their increased life experience and more complex daily lives, adults (or young people living with adult responsibilities) may have a wider range of ‘drivers’ that could lead to self-injury.

How we can help

Whatever your age or responsibilities, you are not alone. People of all ages and in all kinds of circumstances turn to self-injury in order to cope. And everyone deserves help and support.

LifeSIGNS is a fully inclusive organisation and our members range from young teenagers to older people who have retired. Our resources are written for ‘people’ who are affected by self-injury, and we offer guidance and support for everyone.

Whether you need advice for moving away from self-injury, distraction techniques, hiding scars, obtaining professional help, talking to loved ones, getting through the urge to self-injure, or just somewhere to talk about the things that are going on your life, we are here for you.

We are constantly looking to improve and increase the resources we offer to people who self-injure. So whether you’re an adult in years, or a young person living an adult life, we’d appreciate hearing from you. If you’d like to share your own personal story with our members, or if you have suggestions for ways in which we could improve our resources to help more people like you, or if you’d like to challenge or discuss any of the points raised in this article, then please do contact us.

122 Comments

  • elsie

    I’m 29. Self harmed since I was about 12. Stopped for a while but relapsed again tonight. I’m a teacher… I can’t tell my husband.
    I feel ashamed.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hi Elsie, I’m 36 and a manager and also don’t feel I can tell my husband. I sh’d from about 14-25 but managed to stop, but the last 6 months I have relapsed. I’m accessing support and trying to get back on top of it. Don’t feel ashamed, but I hope you are also accessing some support. Hope things improve for you

  • Jenny

    I started harming myself when I was 20. I’m 48, and the longest ive been able to stop for is a few weeks at a time. I’m covered in scars. Ashamed. But I continue doing it. I’m a professional, married, a mother.

    Reply
    • Charlotte

      I’m sorry you’re struggling. I just found out I’m pregnant with my first child. I feel shame that I continue to hurt myself while pregnant, and that shame makes me want hurt myself even more. Ill keep you in my thoughts

  • Brandi

    I started cutting as a teenager. It got bad during my 20s but stopped in my late 20s. I’m now in my 40s and it’s started again. I think about it all the time. It helps me focus but it also makes me want it more. I hold off for days until I can’t anymore then I do it. Never very deep. Always where I can hide it. No one knows. No one even wants to know and I have no one to really talk to about it anyways. I don’t know where to put the thoughts anymore as the suicide prevention line has me flagged. And I don’t want anyone showing up like last time! I don’t know. I’m just alone.

    Reply
  • Leigh

    I started cutting myself in my early 20’s, I think. I can’t even remember what happened, but I felt like I was going crazy, too many emotions inside. I felt loose, and unhinged. I honestly decided I would try to cut myself to see if it helped, because I know I had read about that was why most people did it. I was very cautious about it – got a razor, cleaned everything with an alcohol swab, including where I decided to cut myself, even had the bandages and polysporin ready. I guess it was endorphins after the pain, but I suddenly felt more stable (ironically), more grounded. And tending to the wound gave me something to focus on.
    I keep a little cutting kit hidden in my bedroom in case I ever need it again. I’m about to turn 50 now, and cut myself recently. I’ve probably done it about 5 times in my entire life. Always high upper thigh where it can’t ever be seen.

    Reply
  • Virginie

    I actually just started cutting a few days after my 25th birthday. It kind of did feel like I was too old to be starting this habbit, but one night I was just really in a bad emotional/mental state and it just seemed like I couldn’t get rid of the emotions I had they all felt so heavy and discusting and as if I couldn’t breathe anymore. I felt better the day before and a few days later, had another breakdown and tried cutting again to see if it would go away. Since then, I’ve probably cut myself about 20 times, often when I feel like I don’t have controll over my emotions, but sometimes because I feel empty inside and just want to feel something. I live alone and talked about it to a friend, but I’m really starting to regret starting in the first place. In some ways, it really seems like it helps in the moment, but then I get nervous about if someone ever finds out and start having more anxiety about it. I do it on my thigh, so it shouldn’t be a problem untill summertime, but it still stresses me out. I feel like if my family knew, it would crush them cause I’m pretty good at pretending I’m fine with them. They also might visit more often to my city and that would stress me out even more.

    Reply
  • Laur

    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing. I started cutting when I was 12. I stopped around 21. I am 46 now….always think about it, but it’s been awhile since I have acted on it …but the urge today feels so strong…the emotions flooding in, and glad to see that as an adult I am alone in these feelings to cut again..I don’t know If I’m going to act on the cut but it feels good typing here to know that I’m not alone to have that feeling and I don’t have to feel awkward or crazy that’s something really wrong with me because I want to cut to get rid of the horrible feeling and sadness that I have. As an adult it’s a lonely life with your constantly feeling like you’re nothing. Thank u for sharing that I am not alone.

    Reply
  • Richard

    I started self harming when I was 14, I’m nearly 45 now, and it became progressively worse. My arms are the worst areas, cuts, burns, all that nonsense, but I ran out of space and took to my legs and chest. I can’t stand to see or feel the scars After about a decade without doing it regularly (I had a couple of minor lapses) I’m really struggling not to start again. My future wife thinks it’s a sign of weakness, and even though I have people who claim to be my friends, I don’t think I could tell them how dark my thoughts are turning. When I started I was never suicidal, now I wake up wanting to die and pass out wishing I was dead. Where I live there is no one to talk to. Typing this and sending it into the void has helped. Thank you. Stay strong.

    Reply
    • Clare

      I started self harming much the same age as you and up until now 40 years plus I had it under control. Suddenly it has all come back. I am so embarrassed about my scars on my arms. My partner knows what I’m doing but just thinks I’m a loony. I’m now 60 what a bad place to be in. Why can noone understand us ???

    • Eve

      Neither of you are crazy. You have a lot of really difficult things in your life that you have to somehow keep living in spite of, and not only that, but you’re expected to prioritize everything else above yourself, and who has the energy to be constantly fighting the urge to cut and work through it after all that? Sometimes when I feel emotionally drained from helping other people, I cut myself, because it’s the easiest way to get over my own feelings and be useful again, and because I feel so guilty for not being a better support, but self-harm weighs me down too. Then there are the other problems that I can’t see improving as I get older. I’m only 20 right now, so I am part of the under 25 crowd, and I would never lose any respect for people your age if they cut.

      When I was a younger, my mom told me I should try to stop while I was still in high school because I was in a stage of life where things were pretty simple and easy. In college, my life has actually gotten a lot easier. I don’t want to die, for one thing. And cutting isn’t my whole life, I can still be happy about other things. That seems like a good sign, but even so, I’m worried about how and when I will finally stop. Most of my friends who cut as teenagers have long since stopped. The support online is mostly teenagers.

      Anyway, this has been a bit of a tangent, but neither of you are crazy, neither of you are failing, and both of you deserve love and hope. Just as much as a teenager who is struggling would. Being older doesn’t mean you suddenly have to be a machine without it’s own feelings. It might be easy to think that you “had your chance” to stop cutting in the past and missed it, but it’s not that simple. There is no age that makes you a lost cause. You get as many chances as you need, and some will work better than others. And if you stop and then relapse, you still succeed in stopping and creating some time for yourself without self-harm. It’s still a success.

    • jimmy

      I start cutting very young… i had a handle on it from 28 to 42 me arm is in shredds my girl so mad but shes being so sweet. be kind to all yerselves guys.

  • Griff

    I started self harming when I was 15 up until 22 years old. The only explanation as to why I even started in the first place is so I can feel something when I’m at my numbest.

    As pathetic as it is I’ve never been in a relationship, recently this very pretty girl I’ve had my eye on for a couple years started talking to me and we hit it off. We started taking and teasing each other for a few days before I asked her out and she said yes. I’ve never felt so excited and nervous at the same time but things only got worse. The time in between our date was absolutely miserable, I felt physically sick, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep and it started effecting my work but nonetheless she was always on my mind 24 hours a day.

    I forgot to mention I’m a very reserved, shy person. I don’t like talking to people at all and it’s extremely difficult for me to actually be myself and at ease around people I don’t know including her. As a matter of fact it’s 10x worse when I’m around her and she is the complete opposite of me very talkative outgoing and cutely obnoxious and I love that so much.

    Fast forwarding to the date we went bowling, we had fun doing the activity itself but it was extremely awkward because of me, I froze up and didn’t talk much just smiling at her when she talked to me, at a certain point when she was walking back towards me she had this look on her face that I’ll never forget. It was almost like she had lost interest and felt pity for me. I could tell she didn’t enjoy herself with me even though she was talking to me and smiling most the time. When we left I we walked back to our cars and we’re getting ready to say bye and i have her the rose I bought her, she seem to like it. She gave me a hug and said give me a real hug because I was barely squeezing. I gave her the second hug and squeezed tight, I didn’t want to let go oh her because I knew that would be the first and last time I ever got that close to her. On the way home I cried my eyes out the entire drive back, after getting home I made the irrational decision to text her and end it because I felt like I ended to push her away before she could me because I’m not good enough for her.

    I felt completely numb, i must have passed back and forth in the kitchen for an hour before I started hurting myself. After all this we’re still talking but it doesn’t feel the same, I still have such strong feelings for her and it kills me beacuse I want to tell her but I don’t feel she feels the same anymore. She just feels pity. She’s literally the first and last thing on my mind each day.

    Reply
  • Wen

    i want to continue hurting myself… i just want to do whatever it takes to not feel anything and it’s so hard to love myself when everyone around me talks like i’m a bad person.. i just want to be okay for once

    Reply
  • Kate

    Hi, I have self harmed for a number of years on and off I’m in my 50s now and still when I think I’ve done something wrong or think about my daughter I feel guilt that it’s my fault so it’s a way of punishment to me. Too many deaths, too much to cope with. And can’t now after 20+ years I can’t feel anything for anyone any more. I have a partner that asks why I won’t talk. It’s because I can’t and have nothing to say. I felt nothing for anyone or anything after my daughter died but I looked after my parents and always said once they gone I will be. So what does that make me. My job is caring for others and I love it x

    Reply
  • jeanette

    Hi Terri, thank you for being so open and honest. there are many out there the same age and not so brave to talk about it. i hope you recover well and find treatment that suits your busy schedule

    Reply
  • Khalessi

    It’s so nice to know I’m not alone that there are others still with the problem it’s been off and on for 15 yrs now and after a solid yr of not doing it I relapsed last night my partner thinks I’m crazy I feel crazy like I should be locked away somewhere

    Reply
  • Terri

    I’m approaching 50 and have self-harmed on and off since I was 13. I’ve had lots of therapy which I had to pay for privately which was a massive help and resulted in a 10 year ‘break’. I’ve currently got a whole heap of personal issues going on in addition to working full time at home through lockdown. I have found as I got older, though I self-harmed less when I did it was worse.

    I’m slowly finding what helps now, it’s new things and that’s ok, I’ve just got to find new things that help. It is difficult to find adults who understand and don’t realise that it’s not just something that affects under 25’s.

    Reply
  • Kir

    I have cut as an adult. I’ve had friends and family tell me they would be there for me and all they did was question why I do it, when in truth I still don’t know why. I have days when my depression kicks in hard and all I think about is how I can fix the pain. I always come back to the thing that helped me as a teen. It was my ‘best friend’ at the time. Now I have to learn how it is to be without my ‘best friend’. I have a loving family. But most of the time I’m alone with my thoughts. Sometimes I don’t know what I should do anymore. I feel lost and I’m tired of trying to be happy with a facade everyday. I just wish I could talk to someone who understands how I feel. But since I’m an adult it’s hard for people to understand. Also I can’t afford a psychologist to talk to.

    Reply
  • Glenn

    I have self harmed recently and think i will do it more. I am in my 50s.

    Reply
  • Hol

    i dont know why i harm myself. I’m an adult. have i achieved or am i in a place where i expected to be at my age, no, (but who is at my age) however im not unhappy, i have good friends, a committed and loving partner but sometimes i just want to hurt myself and i dont know why. i dont have to be sad, even though that was how it started when i was a teenager, but sometimes i cant help myself and just do it. which makes me feel like a weirdo, i think if i find someone to speak to who understands i wouldnt feel like a nutter

    Reply
  • Lola

    I’m an adult. I haven’t self harmed yet, but it’s becoming harder and harder NOT to start. I tell my therapist and my psychiatrist and I’m apparently doing everything “right”, but it keeps coming back. I don’t know how to keep fighting it forever.

    Reply
  • Jul

    I’m 40, I self harm regularly. I’m completely reliant on it. It’s a fight I fight every single day. People don’t hear me asking for help then seem shocked when I’ve hurt myself. I don’t know if I will ever stop.

    Reply

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