What is self-injury?

Self-injury is a form of emotion regulation that provides relief when emotions are too intense to deal with. Watch psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD, explain this unhealthy behavior and describes the most common ways people self-injure.

Self-injury is the intentional and deliberate hurting of oneself. Most commonly it is done by:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Hitting
  • Picking at the skin
  • Pulling hair
  • Biting
  • Carving

What are the warning signs?

  • Many cuts/burns on the wrists, arms, legs, back, hips, or stomach
  • Wearing baggy or loose clothe (e.g., wearing hoodies or long sleeves during hot days to conceal the wounds)
  • Always making excuses for having cuts, marks or wounds on the body
  • Finding razors, scissors, lighters or knives in strange places (i.e., the nightstand drawer or under the bed)
  • Spending long periods locked in a bedroom or bathroom
  • Isolation and avoiding social situations

Why do people self-injure?

  • To escape their feelings
  • To cope with life stressors
  • To express their pain
  • To punish themselves (Some people mutilate their bodies to punish themselves for what's going on in their lives. They lack the appropriate coping skills and suffer from low self-esteem so they feel that they deserve what they are doing to themselves.)
  • To feel euphoria. (It's true. When we get hurt endorphins are released into the blood stream, resulting in a "natural high" or a feeling of euphoria. Self-harming behaviors can be addictive and habit forming.)

If you know someone who self-injures:

Injurying oneself is a cry for help. People who self-injure may feel that there is no other outlet to express their emotional pain and cope with distress. People who self-injure don’t do it to seek attention; rather they do it to escape the struggles of their everyday world. If you know someone who is engaging in self-injurious behavior reach out to him or her. Let him/her know you care through getting them the help they need.


    Self-injury (SI) is any deliberate, non suicidal behavior that inflicts physical harm on one's body to relieve emotional distress. People who self injure are often trying to:

    - distract emotional pain
    - end feelings of numbness
    - calm overwhelming feelings
    - maintain control
    - self-punish
    - express thoughts or feelings that cannot be put into words.

    Self-injurers tend to have been raised in families that discouraged expression of anger, and tend to lack skills to express their emotions. Also, self-injurers often lack a good social support network.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.