Emotional Self-Harm: What it Is and How to Avoid It

It's easy to hurt yourself emotionally. One of the many forms of emotional self-harm is neglecting yourself on a daily basis in order to prioritize others. It's when you always fall into the same harmful relationships, don't know how to set boundaries, and neglect that beautiful person that looks back at you in the mirror.
Emotional Self-Harm: What it Is and How to Avoid It
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

When you hear the phrase “self-harm”, you probably think of physically harming yourself. In addition, nowadays, this type of deliberate self-harm is increasingly common as a way of (dramatically) expressing anger, suffering, or frustration. However, as striking as this may be, there’s something that’s even more common and that’s barely spoken about. We’re talking about emotional self-harm.

We know that words can hurt just as much as, if not more than, a physical blow. You can easily identify with the emotional pain that comes from the outside. This is because you surely have experienced the pain of people showing you contempt, mistreating you, shouting at you, or deceiving you.

But what about the pain that you inflict on yourself? Does “emotional self-harm” really exist? The answer is simple and clear. Yes, it does, and it’s very common. You probably do it to yourself frequently without even being aware of it. And those wounds really do have serious consequences.

It’s possible to wound your self-esteem and direct a blow to your dignity, which can end up causing anguish or anxiety. Little by little, your wounds become infected and can lead to depression. Let’s delve deeper into this.

A hand holding some flowers.

What’s emotional self-harm?

Emotional self-harm consists of the thoughts, behavior, and attitudes that act against you and that are clearly detrimental to your emotional well-being. When you realize just how much they harm you, you’ll be forced to reflect on these “wounds”.

While it’s true that we’re all concerned about the different types of self-harm that many teenagers inflict on themselves using knives or other weapons, there’s another dimension that tends to go noticed.

Emotional self-harm encompasses the whole range of internal mood disorders. If a teenager, or any other person, emotionally harms themselves every day, it can turn into a serious problem.

Below, you’ll discover several ways you can emotionally harm yourself.

Relentless internal criticisms

There’s an inner voice in each person that emotionally tortures and hurts them. This voice tries to convince you that you’re not good at certain things. It fills you with insecurity, reminds you of past mistakes, and stifles your potential.

Make no mistake that you’re the one behind that inner voice. You’re torturing yourself. Also, you’re the one who strengthens that voice through your negative internal dialogue, irrational ideas, senseless fears, and thoughts that stem from your low self-esteem. That inner critic is responsible for many of your emotional wounds.

Repeated emotional self-harm

Often, your behavior, attitudes, and thoughts follow the same patterns. You tend to always think the same things over and over again. How is this related to emotional self-harm? This answer to this question is a very familiar one. As human beings, we often tend to look for the same type of emotional partner: someone who’s narcissistic, abusive, and makes you become dependent on them.

It’s like tripping over the same rock over and over again, without having learned to identify and avoid it. This type of situation leads to frustration and suffering. You don’t only feel the pain of that harmful relationship, but you also end up blaming yourself for falling in love with the same kind of person over and over again.

When you don’t set boundaries, you become the doormat everyone steps on

Many people have a big heart and an infinite capacity to be kind to others. It seems that there’s no limit to their kindness. However, they don’t do anything to protect themselves.

This is dangerous. Being a noble person who’s always willing to help and do all you can for others is admirable. However, if you don’t protect yourself against potential abuse and don’t know how to say “no” when you need to, this’ll end up causing emotional wounds.

Many people take advantage of other people’s kindness and use people as doormats to trample on at will. Thus, you should do all you can to avoid letting people do this to you because it can be very harmful to your self-esteem.

A welcome doormat.

Leading a life without passion or motivation

Life isn’t just work or routine. Nor is it about pleasing others all the time, no matter how much you love them. Real life needs passion, projects to fulfill, hope, and excitement. You need to be able to do what you love and to devote time to yourself through experiences that inspire you and that make you grow.

If you don’t have any of these ingredients, you’ll shut down emotionally. A day-to-day life without any excitement or hope causes small internal injuries that nobody sees. However, your hopes and dreams seep away through these wounds, as well as your soul.

You have to find that subtle and delicate balance between obligations and pleasures, between work and dreams, and between your partner and yourself.

To conclude, while it’s true that most of us have many emotional wounds inside us, there’s always time to heal them. Habits such as devoting time to yourself, boosting your self-esteem, and taking care of yourself will help to heal the pain and make you a braver and stronger person who’s more willing to work hard for your own happiness.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.