Self-harm can consist of many different techniques ranging from physical abuse to psychological abuse. Commonly it’s associated with physical pain such as cutting or burning of the skin, but that’s not the only type of self-harm. Digital self-harm is a new form of psychological abuse that is mainly seen in adolescents and is more popular with boys. While the abuse is primarily focused on emotional harm rather than physical harm, the mistreatment is thought to stem from a similar frame of mind.

Digital self-harm is a form of self-aggression that involves anonymously posting hurtful and sometimes verbally abusive remarks about one’s self online. Some of the online platforms used include forums as well as social media websites. By creating entirely separate personas online, teenagers are able to then post on their self-identified account different types of hate-filled comments targeted at themselves from themselves.

Psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler, interviewed by NPR, explained that one girl described cyberbullying herself as a way to “beat them to the punch” when referring to other classmates who may have teased her.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens bully themselves as a way to regulate feelings of hatred and sadness in addition to gaining attention from friends and possibly family. Approximately six percent of students have anonymously posted a mean comment about themselves. Digital self-harm is predominantly done by males. A common misperception found among adults shows that many perceive girls to be more likely to engage in this type of behavior than boys. While girls do participate in this form of aggression, it is less likely to occur. Some of the suspected factors include sexual orientation, substance abuse, depression and other forms of bullying.

People who self-harm without the intention of suicide tend to be depressed and may have difficulty regulating their emotions. As a result, there is a likelihood for poor coping mechanisms. Problems with self esteem, the ability to tolerate pain and dissociation are all possible causes for self-harm.

The BBC interviewed an anonymous teen in 2013 who described the self bullying. “The posts would say I was ugly, I was useless, I wasn’t loved… all the stuff in my head.” The explanation concluded that if the words appeared as if they were written from someone else, then the reality inside could match the reality outside. The sense of absoluteness seemed calming.

Another case of digital self-harm involved a teenager by the name of Hannah Smith. The 14-year-old was described by many as being clever, bubbly and smart. In spite of this, she was found hanged in her bedroom. Her family suspected she was the victim of cyberbullying, but did not understand she was the one behind it. After an investigation into her online account activity found that the hateful messages posted about her were made by Hannah herself.

Treatment for self-harm can involve therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. Common skills learned from these therapies include:

  • Learning how to identify the underlying issues
  • Regulating complex emotions
  • Problem solving
  • Boosting esteem even in situations that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar
  • Relationship skills
  • Managing stress levels

In addition to professional therapy, here are four helpful steps to combating self-harm:

  • Recognize the situations that make you feel out of control. You may not be able to avoid all of these instances, but prevention and a plan can arm you with the tools needed for self care.
  • Do not use substances to medicate or numb feelings of distress. This will reinforce out of control behavior.
  • Identify all of the feelings surrounding certain situations. Most intense feelings do not involve one simple feeling like anger or sadness. Some of the most frustrating moments involve more than one feeling or even conflicting feelings.
  • Ask for help. It may be difficult if you have been labeled an “attention seeker” because you have thought about self-harm, but asking for help is the appropriate way to alert someone that you are not okay. It is never an act of drama to let someone know how you feel or to ask for what you want.

Self-harming behavior may take different forms over the years, but the common thread linking them all together is emotional pain.

For emergency situations call: 1-800-273-TALK