What Are Self-Harm Behaviors?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Self-harm behaviors are the actions and attitudes of those who intentionally act in a self-destructive manner, usually as the result of an underlying psychological condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder. The acts of intentionally harming oneself through actions such as cutting, burning, or skin picking are only some of the many self-harm behaviors. Others include depression symptoms such as lack of motivation, irritability, and pervasive sadness. It should be noted that, though they are similar, self-harm behaviors are not the same as suicidal behaviors because the intent is to cause bodily harm, not to kill oneself. In spite of this, such behaviors must still be taken seriously, as they have the potential to lead to serious physical harm and are indicative of deeper psychological issues.


Physically harming oneself is the most obvious of the many behaviors associated with self-harm. In some cases, such as when an individual deliberately cuts or burns himself, the intent to cause physical harm is clear. Other self-harm behaviors, on the other hand, may disguise the intent but are no less intentional or harmful. Some individuals may, for instance, chain smoke or consume drugs or alcohol because they enjoy doing so, but an individual who engages in self-harm behaviors will do so as a form of deliberate self destruction. Self-harm behaviors, then, may be difficult to identify from the act of self-harm in and of itself, so one may need to take other behaviors or lifestyle changes into consideration to determine whether or not self-harm is taking place.

Individuals who engage in self-harm behaviors often display various symptoms traditionally indicative of depression. In fact, self-harm is itself a symptom of many cases of depression. Other symptoms include reduced motivation, irregular sleep, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of general hopelessness. An individual who intentionally harms himself, then, may also put less effort into work or school and seem generally uninterested in most activities, even those which he previously found to be very enjoyable. He may also seem more tired or more irritable than usual.

Some self-harm behaviors leave visible physical marks, such as scars or bruises, so individuals who harm themselves often dress differently in order to cover such marks. People who cut or burn their arms or legs, for instance, may start wearing long pants and shirts with long sleeves, even in hot weather. As such, a noticeable change in how an individual dresses, particularly if it involves substantially more covered skin, may be indicative of self-harm.



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