What is self-injury?

The term self-injury refers to acts, which involve inflicting injuries on one’s own body.  Self-injury is sometimes called “self-harm” (a broader term), “cutting up,” “self abuse” or “self-mutilation.”

The most common form of self-injury is probably cutting, often of the arms as well as other areas.  Some cuts are superficial but some people will cut themselves more deeply.  Some people also scrape, scratch or pick their skin so badly that chronic sores develop and scarring occurs.

Sometimes, people will burn or scald themselves, others may punch themselves or hit parts of the bodies against something to cause pain and bruising.  Inserting or swallowing objects might cause less visible injuries.  Some people also hurt themselves by pulling out their hair or eyelashes or by repeatedly biting and tearing the skin on their hands or fingers.

Self-injury often begins in childhood or adolescence.  It may be short lived, but some people will continue to hurt themselves (perhaps on and off) for many years.

Self-injury is often mistakenly seen as a suicide attempt.  However, people who harm themselves are usually very clear about the difference between self-injury and a suicide attempt.  Whatever the similarities self-injury may bear to suicidal acts, it is not about dying.  It is about trying to cope and carry on with life.

Whilst some people harm themselves in ways which are obvious to others, or seek help for their injuries, others are surprisingly successful at hiding what they do.  Shame, fear and humiliation may force people to keep their self-injury a secret for years.

Self-injury can be understood within a wider context of self-harm, which can include things like drug and alcohol abuse, overdosing, putting oneself in danger in various ways and eating problems.  While some people self-harm particularly severely, in fact almost all of us self-harm in some way, usually less dramatically.  Examples of ways we do this include smoking, worrying, taking risks, not getting enough sleep etc.


For more information about self injury, text or email support, or details of a free telephone helpline, please contact the specialist organisation Self Injury Support by clicking here.