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Self-injury is also known as self-mutiliation or self-harm. It occurs when someone intentionally causes harm to his or her own body. Methods of harm can include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Hitting
  • Skin-picking
  • Interfering with wound-healing
  • Hair-pulling
  • Fracturing bones
  • Swallowing objects

Approximately 1 in 10 people in their late teens and twenties will self-injure at least once. For many, it develops into a chronic problem.

Causes of Self-Injury

Self-injury often occurs in conjunction with other problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual identity concerns, or verbal or physical abuse. Self-injurers find that physical injuries can provide relief from emotional distress.

Many people use self-injury to control anxiety, anger, or guilt. For others, it is an escape from emotional numbness or feelings of detachment.

Dangers of Self-Injury

Aside from the obvious danger of causing a serious injury, self-injury is harmful because it does not solve underlying emotional problems. Self-injurers don't learn how to manage their feelings in more effective ways. They may also feel guilty or ashamed about the behavior. It also interferes with their relationships with friends and family who are frightened by the behavior.

Self-injury is usually distinct from suicidal behavior. A person who self-injures wants to feel better, while the potential suicide wants to end all feelings. The best way to find out if a self-injurer is contemplating suicide is to ask.

Common Features of Self-Injurers
  • Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and/or a history of physical or sexual abuse
  • Feeling lonely or alienated
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling empty or numb
  • Feeling overwhelmed by emotional pain

If you or someone you know has a problem with self-injury, contact a CAPS counselor at (812) 855-5711.