2 mins

Understanding and breaking out of the self-harm cycle

Breaking out of the self-harm cycle

From our experience with self-harm over many years, we understand it as being a coping strategy that develops when people experience difficulties in managing their emotions. People who self-harm often experience more intense emotions than others and usually haven’t learnt the skills of how to deal with those emotions.

While on the surface, some people may see self-harm as a cry for help or attention, we have found that it is seen as a coping strategy or solution from the point of view of the sufferer. In fact, because self-harm releases endorphins, it can even become addictive. We’ve also found that when adolescents use self-harm as a coping strategy, they receive the additional pay-off of feeling triumphant – that they’re so tough they can conquer great physical pain.

In the following article, we’re going to take you through our Chain Analysis Process, which helps us map out the situation at hand and how to resolve it.

Chain Analysis Process

When helping a person who engaged in self-harm, we always map out the cycle they are in. Very often, these people experience vulnerabilities that trigger certain emotions. In trying to resolve their problem, they get stuck in a cycle of being triggered by their vulnerabilities.

  • Are there any vulnerability factors?
  • What are the triggers that might lead someone to self-harm?
  • What are the feelings this person has in the moment?
  • What problem is this person trying to solve?

After we’ve mapped out answers to the questions above, we then look at what other skills or coping strategies can provide the same positive release that comes from self-harm, so the person can let go of the self-harm coping mechanism altogether.

We teach people the following skills that place them in a new cycle of self-learning and self-growth:

  • distress tolerance skills
  • emotional regulation skills
  • mindfulness skills
  • relationship building skills
  • self-soothing skills



If you, or anyone you know, are suffering from self-harm and require support for the improvement of your mental health, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

19 July 2018

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.