Self-harm, or self-mutilation is the act of deliberately inflicting pain and damage to one’s own body. Self-harm most often refers to cutting, burning, scratching, and other forms of external injury. It can, however, also include internal or emotional harm, such as consuming toxic amounts of alcohol or drugs. Because there may be some temporary relief at the start, self-harm can become someone’s normal way of dealing with life’s difficulties. It is important to talk to someone as early as possible to get the right support and help. Learning new coping strategies to deal with these difficulties can make it easier to break the cycle of self-harm in the long term.
If you know someone who is demonstrating self-harm, they most likely have a deep underlying disorder or additional signs of emotional distress. It is important to listen to them without judgment and express how much you care for them as a person
- The underlying causes of self-harm can be difficult to recognize without thorough assessment and therapy. Many adolescents who engage in self-harming behavior have severe underlying emotional pain and lack adequate coping skills.
- It is an impulsive act to regulate mood and attempt to overcome underlying anger, sadness, pain or frustration. Individuals most as risk for self-harm experienced trauma, neglect or abuse in the past and use this self-destructive behavior to hide or express their repressed emotions.
- Difficulty managing emotions. The person has a hard time regulating, expressing or understanding emotions. The mix of emotions that triggers self-injury is complex. For instance, there may be feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt and rejection.
- Many mental illnesses that can trigger the urge to self-harm are thought to have genetic components. People born into families that have a history of mental illness are at a greater risk for developing the disorder.
- Most types of mental illnesses are the result of imbalances in the neurotransmitters involved in emotional regulation. People who have imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain may self-injure in order to experience emotions, or as a result of the mental illness.
- Cutting. Skin-cutting is a common form of self-injury, where individuals use a sharp, inanimate object to obstruct the surface of the skin, typically on the arms or legs. Cutting is a self-injury behavior most seen among women.
- Impact with Objects. Individuals who perform self-harm might do so by hitting their head against the wall, head banging, or hitting themselves with objects.
- Burning. The act of burning could be done with matches, cigarettes or candle flames.
- Scratching. This self-harm behavior could involve incessantly scratching of the skin until raw, obsessively obstructing a healing wound or picking at the skin until blood is drawn.
- Hair Pulling. This method of self-injury is referred to as trichotillomania. A disorder characterized by uncontrollable urge to pull out one’s own hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or other parts of the body. People typically engage in this ritual to experience a rise in tension before pulling the hair followed by a sense of pleasure after the hair is pulled.
- Self-Poisoning. Almost 10% of people who explore self-injury also engage in substance abuse with drugs and alcohol. Consumption of harmful substances could also be a means of self-harm through poisoning of the body with the harmful elements in drugs and alcohol.
It can be difficult to detect when someone is hurting themselves since self-harm is often done in private and kept hidden out of shame and fear. Fresh cuts and scratches, bite marks, and burns can all be warnings of self-injury when they occur frequently. Other physical signs may include scars, bruises, and bald patches, particularly those that indicate a repeated pattern of harm.
Other, less obvious signs could include an individual who seems especially prone to accidents or who wears long sleeves or long pants even in hot weather. These behaviors may be attempts to disguise self-injury. People who self-harm may also show signs of depression or emotional unpredictability, such as making comments about their sense of hopelessness or worthlessness.