the user-led self-injury organisation.

  • UK
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Life is a continuous path of choices. Everything we say or don’t say, everything we do or don’t do; they’re all choices. The choices we make accumulate to make us who we are as people, and define the journey our lives will take.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes things happen *to* us over which we have no control. Those things can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable and frightened. But how we deal with those things again becomes our own choice.

I was mugged last year and for a while it affected me badly. I allowed it to affect my behaviours and my daily life. Because I’d had no control over what happened, I felt that I had no control over how it left me feeling. But then I realised that by thinking that way and allowing it to affect my life, I was in fact *giving* control to the person who hurt me. In order to take back control, I had to accept responsibility for how I was allowing the incident to affect me. It was a choice. I *chose* to take back control and get on with my life as before.

Self-injury is a choice. Some people won’t agree with this statement; over the years I’ve heard people say many times that self-injury is not a choice for them, that it’s something they *have* to do. But unless someone else is physically forcing you to hurt yourself against your will (which wouldn’t be self-injury),  then the decision to self-injure is always a choice.*

*There are instances, if a person is suffering from psychosis / mental fugue / dissociation, when they don’t have full control over their actions. But this is relatively rare. This article is about the choice to self-injure in order to cope with emotional distress.

I’m not saying it’s a *wrong* choice. Indeed it’s a choice I’ve made myself for a great many years. People choose self-injury because it works as a coping mechanism, and it works quickly. For people who rely on self-injury, it works better than anything else. Because let’s face it, the alternatives take a lot more effort and take far longer to work.

But just because self-injury isn’t *wrong*, it doesn’t mean it’s right either, or normal or adaptive. Self-injury is a maladaptive behaviour; it’s unhealthy, potentially dangerous and doesn’t deal with the underlying issues.

We each have very good reasons for choosing self-injury as a coping mechanism, but it is a choice. When people say it’s not a choice, aren’t they basically giving in to the idea that they have no control over their own actions? And people tend to do this when they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves or their behaviours.

But only by taking responsibility and accepting that self-injury is a choice, can we hope to move on and seek healthier choices. Taking responsibility is empowering; it enables a person to accept that they are in control of their own lives.

If you’re currently choosing self-injury, then consider what else you might choose. You could choose to get some help for the underlying issues. You could choose to change the things in your life that you’re unhappy with. You could choose to try alternative, healthier coping mechanisms. You could choose to self-injure less frequently and / or less severely. You could choose to move away from self-injury. You could choose to seek health and happiness every day. Do they sound like good choices? Do they sound like *better* choices than the ones you’re currently making? What choices will you make today?


  • Dibbling Dave

    Self injury kept me alive and sane for many years 11 – 39. Harming was quick and efficient and my chosen way of coping. Maybe not much of a choice because it was the only way I knew.

    I stopped harming, when I was shown thet I did have other choices via using other strategies. Basically I wanted to change myself and my situation and I did. That was my choice.

    I am not suggesting that everyone should change. We should respect peoples decisions and work with them. Not deny them their experience.

    Alternatives to harming should in my opinion be offered not enforced. Nobody ever got trully satisfied by having their minds made for them.


  • Wedge

    Just to add that we welcome thoughts, ideas and experiences. If you would like to write an article for FirstSigns please email it to – remember that it may be shared around the Internet and that you’re welcome to be known by only your forename – we don’t use surnames at FirstSigns :)

    We don’t get into debates and personal arguments on our blog, but we do share ideas and thought provoking articles and you’re very welcome to write for us.

    Sometimes we use our Tumblr instead of our main blog, so check that too: (you can submit articles online).

  • Chrysalis

    This, times so many. ;)

    I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve wound up having someone in a self harm chat get cranky with me because I tell them their self harm is a choice. Just because you think it’s the best choice at the time doesn’t make it any less a choice, and just because it works doesn’t make it any less a choice.

    I, too, have made the choice to self harm many times in the past. I still make the choice to self harm far too often! There are times for me when it’s not a choice (dissociation), but there are choices I can make around that situation that can influence that, too.

    I agree that ultimately, if we want to stop self harming, one of the first steps is to acknowledge that it’s a choice — and that, as a choice, we have the power to change it! It isn’t easy, and it’s not always as straightforward as recognising it as a choice and simply no longer making that choice… but it IS a choice. Thank you so much for writing this!


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