Skip to content

    Depression Health Center

    Font Size


    What Is Self-Injury?

    Self-injury, also called self-harm or self-mutilation, is defined as any intentional injury to one's own body. Usually, self-injury leaves marks or causes tissue damage. Self-injury can involve any of the following behaviors:

    • Cutting
    • Burning (or "branding" with hot objects)
    • Picking at skin or re-opening wounds
    • Hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
    • Head-banging
    • Hitting (with hammer or other object)
    • Bone-breaking

    Most who engage in self-injury act alone rather than in groups. They also attempt to hide their behavior.

    Recommended Related to Depression

    Fending Off Depression Symptoms in Winter

    While some people look forward to the brisk days of fall and winter, anticipating family dinners and cozy nights by the fire, others dread the cooler temperatures and shorter days. If history repeats, they know that the winter season will bring, like clockwork, worsening symptoms of depression. Up to 3% of the population in the U.S. may suffer from winter depression, which experts term seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Some of the 6.7% Americans who suffer depression year-round find that...

    Read the Fending Off Depression Symptoms in Winter article > >

    Who Is More Likely to Engage in Self-Injury?

    Self-injury can occur in either sex and in any race of people. The behavior is not limited by education, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religion. However, there are some common factors among people who engage in self-injury. Self-injury occurs more often among:

    • Adolescent females
    • People who have a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
    • People who have co-existing problems of substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or eating disorders
    • Individuals who were often raised in families that discouraged expression of anger
    • Individuals who lack skills to express their emotions and lack a good social support network

    What Causes People to Injure Themselves?

    Self-injury usually occurs when people face what seem like overwhelming or distressing feelings. Self-injurers may feel that self-injury is a way of:

    • Temporarily relieving intense feelings, pressure, or anxiety
    • Being real, being alive, or feeling something
    • Being able to feel pain on the outside instead of the inside
    • Controlling and managing pain -- unlike the pain experienced through physical or sexual abuse
    • Providing a way to break emotional numbness (the self-anesthesia that allows someone to cut without feeling pain)
    • Asking for help in an indirect way or drawing attention to the need for help
    • Attempting to affect others by manipulating them, trying to make them care, trying to make them feel guilty, or trying to make them go away

    Self-injury also may be a reflection of a person's self-hatred. Some self-injurers are punishing themselves for having strong feelings that they were usually not allowed to express as children. They also may be punishing themselves for somehow being bad and undeserving. These feelings are an outgrowth of abuse and a belief that the abuse was deserved.

    Even though there is the possibility that a self-inflicted injury may result in life-threatening damage, self-injury is not considered to be suicidal behavior.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
    jk rowling
    Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
    depressed man sitting on hallway floor
    Learn the truth about this serious illness.
    Sad woman looking out of the window
    Tips to stay the treatment course.
    unhappy teen boy
    Health Check
    jk rowling
    Pills with smiley faces
    Teen girl huddled outside house
    Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
    antidepressants slideshow
    pill bottle
    Winding path