Why Do People Self-Harm Even When They're Happy?
That someone who self-harms must be unhappy is an easy assumption to make, but the truth is more complicated than that--sometimes people self-harm when they're happy. While self-harm and mood disorders do often go hand-in-hand, self-harm is not intrinsically linked to mood. Not everyone who is unhappy self-harms, after all, and not everyone who self-harms does so exclusively when they are suffering. So why do people self-harm even when they're happy—or at least appear to be so?
Self-Harm When You're 'Happy'
Sometimes people self-harm when they appear to be happy. Not everyone who seems happy is actually happy, of course. I remember once in high school, an acquaintance read a poem of mine and expressed her surprise at how dark it was. "But you're such a happy person!" she said.
I was shocked. She had no idea how many days I struggled just to get out of bed; she'd never noticed the marks on my arm. All she recognized was that I smiled when people spoke to me, and made jokes when I could to lighten the mood.
Low mood, persistent or otherwise, isn't always easy to recognize in another person, particularly if they are actively trying to hide it. In many cases, people who are adept at hiding their habit of self-injury are often just as capable of hiding their emotions.
Why People Self-Harm Even They 'Should' Be Happy
Low mood can certainly contribute to self-harm cravings. However, it is not the only possible trigger.
Stress, for example, is a common trigger—and it doesn't always have to be negative. Eustress (positive stress) is the reason we feel exhausted at the end of a fun party or a day at the amusement park. Even on joyous occasions, eustress can affect us in much the same way as negative stress—including triggering unhealthy coping mechanisms such as self-injury.
Additionally, self-harm triggers may be rooted in past traumas that have nothing obvious to do with the present moment. An otherwise enjoyable day might contain a subtle reminder of a bad memory or past trauma.
Finally, for some people, even good feelings can be triggers. Imagine, for example, that someone with incredibly low self-esteem wins an award for something they created. They might feel happy at first, only to feel guilty because they believe they do not deserve such happiness. This, in turn, might push them to self-harm as a way to punish themselves, or as a way to release those feelings of guilt.
Finding Happiness in Spite of Self-Harm
It can be dispiriting to realize that even good days can be bad days for people who self-harm. But on the other hand, the fact that self-harm is not inextricably connected to mood is also a reason for hope—just because you self-harm now, or have in the past, doesn't mean you can't find happiness.
I may not be the cheerful, carefree person that girl in high school thought she saw in me, but I do have more good days than bad now—something that used to seem impossible, back when I was hurting myself. Yes, sometimes I still think about it, even on the good days. But the difference is, I no longer feel like I need to hurt myself to cope with my feelings—and living without that burden is a kind of happiness, too.
Did or do you self-harm when you're happy? How do you recognize your triggers? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Kim Berkley (2020, March 5). Why Do People Self-Harm Even When They're Happy?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2020/3/why-do-people-self-harm-even-when-theyre-happy
Author: Kim Berkley
I haven't cut myself in almost 20 years, but today, I felt a strong urge to do it. I've been sitting with this feeling all afternoon and evening, wondering why, out of the blue, I have this urge? Things are going well for me. I have a good job, all the creature comforts, and I am successfully going through an exercise program. My energy levels are higher than they have been for years. It's a good feeling. I feel light. The only thing I can think of is that something nostalgic happened today that triggered the urge in my subconscious. Perhaps I don't trust this particular feeling of hope or success. Or maybe this particular feeling of happiness is a form of stress that cutting can calm. I don't know. Something in my subconsciousness is speaking out. It's baffling that after so much time has passed, today of all days I want to cut again. I'm partly curious, partly serious, and partly mystified. Oddly enough, I don't feel disgusted.
i’m happy right now and i don’t have a reason to be sad and i’ve been clean for five months but i’m getting urges, i feel like i didn’t do it enough while i was in a depressive state so i’m getting urges to cut so i have scars not bc i’m sad is that normal or no
Normal is a tricky word, haha. For me, I have a quiet love for my scars. I would never admit that to a 'normal' person. And I don't necessarily need or want to make more scars. But they remind me of the person I was in a certain period of life. I guess it's a macabre preoccupation to be fascinated by your self-inflicted scars, but whether good or bad, that's the way it is for me. Anyway, I think you're okay.
Like many of the comments above, my life is great, I have everything, a loving family, truly amazing friends, I’m even religious, no complaints. I’m a role model in my community, and I know people look up to me. However, because I know I have to be my best, sometimes I feel like I lie to myself, when I feel or think negative things, instead of positive as I’m suppose to, it frustrates me because I always wonder if I’m really being real with myself, or if I’ve made a false concept of myself and I’m not really the nice person I think I am, maybe the real me is negative and dry. Idk if any of this makes sense. Anyways, lately I’ve found c*tting so alleviating because it feels real, I focus on making the perfect c*t and it soothes me, and seeing it makes me feel real. Don’t worry though I’m not suicidal or anything, I just wanted to share this and get your thoughts, Kim. I feel like if I tell anyone else they’ll think I’m mental. But I promise, I’m good. But I know c*tting isn’t good so I’ve started journaling to avoid building the habit of self-harm, so far so good.
It's so difficult when you feel low but don't have an obvious reason to point to, whether for yourself or for others. But please keep in mind that external events and situations are only one piece of the mental health puzzle--other things can affect our mood, our thoughts, and even our behaviors (not to mention how we feel physically), including what we eat and drink, genetic predispositions, chemical imbalances, medical conditions, and so on. So yes, it's totally possible, and understandable, to have a fairly normal-seeming external life but still feel awful inside.
Turning to self-harm to alleviate these feelings isn't uncommon; I've been there, myself. But just because you're not suicidal doesn't mean it's a healthy or sustainable coping method. Take it from someone who eventually did stop self-harming in favor of other options; it's not your only outlet, and it's not even the best one you have available to you. It might take some time and patience to find what healthy options DO work for you, but I promise it's worth the effort. I've been in recovery for 10 years, and I never want to go back to self-harming if I can help it.
Journaling is another excellent step in the right direction. I hope you continue to try out some other options as well; there are lots of healthy coping methods out there, and in my experience, the more you find that work for you (and especially the more you find that you actually enjoy), the better. Something physical would be great -- exercise can do so much for your mental health, and even if you're not up for a workout, just a brief daily walk or yoga session or even some simple stretches can make a difference. Things like eating healthier, getting more sleep, and other forms of self-care have been so helpful for me, and for others. Try whatever sounds interesting to you--hobbies help keep you busy mentally and physically and can help keep you from spiraling down to that place where you feel like you need to SH.
Thank you so much for reaching out like this; it's a great step in the right direction, and I'm honored that you felt like you could come to me about this. I hope the blog helps, and I hope this comment helps somehow, too. I wish you the best of luck.
I don’t have a bad life. I have a lot of friends, a loving family, and I’m not to bad in school but I still feel like self harming. Why do I feel like this.
I felt very similarly when I was self-harming, believe it or not. My parents were (and still are) good parents. I had friends who cared about me. I did well in school, and wasn't bullied or anything like that. But rather than making me feel better, it made me feel guilty and confused, and I asked myself the same thing you are asking now--"Why? Why am I like this?"
The truth is that many things affect our mental health and can trigger self-harm urges. They don't always make sense to us and may not become apparent until we really dig into our circumstances and, more importantly, how we interpret them. It can be really hard to figure these things out on your own--not impossible, but much more difficult than with the appropriate help. I would urge you to reach out to a mental health professional if you can, as the right therapist can be SUCH a helpful guide in these matters--but if not, perhaps a trusted friend or family member. And if you really can't or aren't ready to do any of that just yet... reach out to yourself. Try journaling, art therapy--whatever sounds interesting and can give you a healthy outlet for what you're feeling.
I can't tell you why you, specifically, feel driven to self-harm. But I hope these tips will help you begin to figure that out for yourself--and then figure out how to move past it and into a place of healing. If you have any more questions, comments, etc., I'll be able to reply to them here for as long as I'm still writing on the blog.
I self harm bc it makes me happy. I don't know why it makes me happy it just does.
It's not my place to tell you otherwise. But I do hope you can find other ways to make yourself happy. If you have any questions or would like any advice in that regard, I will do what I can, just let me know. Otherwise, take care (and happy belated new year).
when i first started to self harm it was to release all the negativity i was feeling, i was feeling mad, worthless, sad, frustrated to name a few but as the days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months to years i started to find myself self-harming when i was happy, i started studying again and felt so overwhelmed i cut, i met a girl i felt so happy and then got crushed and the only thing i could do was cut to deal with the agony, now im noticing that it doesn't actually matter how i feel because the thoughts of self-harm are random whether im happy or sad. i was told through the years of self-harm and dealing with a lot of mental health issues that i have emotional detachment which can be a positive because i stay calm but its a negative because i have a build up of emotions that i dont know how to show or let go, but we all have to take it one day at a time and hopefully we will look back on this years to come and be able to understand more about our selves
For me, it began as a coping method when I was angry or upset. But the longer it went on, the less it took to trigger me, and eventually, it was just an addiction that I needed no matter how I was feeling. So yes, it could have been a pretty good day, where one would expect me to be happy, but I still felt such strong urges to self-harm that I just couldn't get rid of until I had acted on them.
Hi, Katie. I'm glad you pointed this out—self-harm can become emotionally addictive for many people, to the point where (like you said) an obvious trigger isn't really needed for cravings to occur. Just like any other addiction, a seemingly good day won't necessarily prevent someone from feeling like they want, or have, to hurt themselves. And that can be really hard to understand for people who don't understand addiction, or who don't recognize the addictive potential of self-harm.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Katie. I know it can't have been easy to live with those feelings, but by sharing them here, you're helping all the others reading who might have felt the same—and perhaps even thought they were the only ones to feel that way—remember that they are not alone.