What is Self-Mutilation?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2018
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Self-mutilation is a disorder that involves causing intentional injury to oneself. It can be done through burning, cutting, pulling the hair, picking at wounds until they bleed, breaking the bones, head-banging, or any other action that results in self-injury. It is a mental health problem, as some people use this behavior to relieve anxiety or pressure, or even just to feel something. Most people suffering from self-mutilation try to hide the behavior, typically through long sleeves and pants, and may appear depressed or to have difficulty expressing their feelings.

Some of the main symptoms of this disorder include any type of behavior that ends in self-injury. This includes picking at scabs until they bleed, hitting the head repeatedly against hard surfaces, cutting the skin with a sharp object, or burning the skin with a lighter, match, or lit cigarette. On the other hand, some people take less obvious routes that require little or no harmful tools, such as poking themselves with needles, biting themselves, pulling out their hair, pressing their eyes, or punching themselves. Those suffering from self-mutilation likely have unexplained cuts, burns, and bruises that they may try to hide by wearing long sleeves and pants, no matter the weather. They often also display low self-esteem and depression.


While anyone can suffer from this disorder, some people are more at risk for it than others. For example, those who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused in the past, have eating disorders, come from a family that discourages the expression of emotions, or do not have many friends to confide in are most likely to perform self-mutilation. Teenage girls are also often more at risk for this behavior than the average person, though it should be noted that this disorder does not discriminate based on religion, gender, class, race, or age, in most cases.

Most people with this disorder are not trying to kill themselves when they self-harm. Instead, they are usually trying to manage their feelings, as they may not know other ways to express their emotions, particularly pressure, anxiety, sadness, or anger. Some might harm themselves in an attempt to feel pain outside to match the pain inside, while others may just want to feel something in general. Additionally, some people who practice self-mutilation are trying to feel in control of their life for once, which may be why some people with eating disorders also self-harm, as the two disorders are often caused by the need for control. Of course, those who make no attempt to hide the scars and bruises may be seeking attention, as they want to know that others care.



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