What is Self-injury?

Self-injury is when a person hurts themself on purpose to help deal with difficult thoughts or feelings.

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Self-injury is when a person intentionally hurts themself to help deal with difficult thoughts or feelings. A person who self-injures is not trying to end their life, but rather they are trying to cope with or communicate their distress. They may feel numb to the world and are using self-injury as a way to feel something. Some people who self-injure may have suicidal thoughts, but this is not always the case.

A person can have one or more reasons for self-injuring. These reasons may develop and change over time.

Common reasons for self-injuring include:

  • to cope with grief, loss, violence, chronic illness or major stressors
  • to deal with unwanted feelings like anxiety or depression
  • to punish themself
  • to express feelings of failure, anger or self-hate
  • to make emotional distress feel like physical pain
  • to feel something, instead of feeling nothing or feeling numb
  • to feel in control of something when other things feel out of control
  • to feel better at that moment or feel a release of tension
  • to avoid dealing with a stressful situation
  • to communicate distress, a need for help or the feeling that they can’t be helped

Self-injury is usually very private and can be really hard to talk about. Common types of self-injury are:

  • cutting or scratching the skin
  • carving words or symbols into the skin
  • rubbing objects into the skin
  • burning the skin
  • biting or severely pinching the skin
  • self hitting
  • crashing or banging into objects
  • picking at sores on the skin
  • hair-pulling

When someone is self-injuring it may seem like a less harmful way to deal with their thoughts and feelings. But self-injury is still harmful to the individual.

Those who stop self-injuring say they:

  • are working on addressing the underlying issues that lead to the self-injury
  • are better able to handle their emotions
  • have become more self-aware
  • are getting support from others

What you can do if you have been self-injuring

For some, the urge to self-injure can be very strong. But, there are places to get help and ideas for healthy ways to cope.

If wounds from self-injury look serious

  • In an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • If not an immediate emergency call 811 to speak with a nurse.
  • Make sure you care for any injuries properly, keep basic first aid supplies on hand.
  • See your doctor if you’re not sure what to do next.

What Next?

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