One of the things I've discovered throughout my psychology and social work education and training is that people do things for reasons. These reasons may not always be clear to observers, however. And like any other coping mechanism, people self-harm for various reasons.
These are some of the reasons self-harmers commonly give for their self-inflicted violence:
-To numb feelings or to escape depression, dissociation, or emptiness.
-On the contrary, some self-harmers self-injure to escape numbness; they want to feel something.
--To prevent suicide (please see my post below for more information).
-To escape tension or overwhelming feelings.
-To communicate their emotional pain.
-As a way of continuing abusive patterns (many self-harmers have experienced abuse).
-To validate emotional pain.
-To gain control over something, their bodies.
-To punish oneself for being "bad".
-To cope with feelings of anger, alienation, depersonalization, depression, or disassociation.
-To get grounded or to escape a flashback.
Self-harmers have found that hurting themselves is a way in which they can cope with their feelings that seem to painful to just sit with. While the behavior may successfully prevent suicide, once the self-harmer is "hooked" on it, it is very difficult to stop. Learning new, healthier coping mechanisms is hard work and takes a lot of time and practice. For this reason it may take self-harmers months or years to completely stop self-harming.