Self-mutilation, also known as self-harm or self-abuse occurs when someone intentionally and repeatedly harms themselves in a way that is impulsive and not intended to be noxious.

People who often indulge in self harm say that they feel empty from inside, lonely, not understood by others, unable to express their feelings, afraid of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. People harm themselves to cope with painful feelings which are hard to express. Self harm develops as a way to gain control over their bodies while everything else in their lives seems to be out of control.

By engaging in self injury, a person intends to-

  1. Obtain relief from a negative feeling or mental state

  2. Deal with interpersonal problems

  3. Induce a positive feeling state

  4. Resolve interpersonal difficulties

The most common methods of self harm are:

  • Skin cutting (70-90%)

  • Head banging or hitting (21%-44%) and

  • Burning (15%-35%).

Other forms of self-injury include excessive scratching to the point of drawing blood, punching self or objects, infecting oneself, inserting objects into body openings, drinking something harmful and breaking bones purposefully. Most individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury hurt themselves in more ways than one.


  1. Unexplained frequent injuries including cuts and burns

  2. Difficulty handling feelings

  3. Poor functioning at social spaces

  4. Low self esteem

People who self-injure may attempt to conceal their marks, such as bruises, scabs or scars with clothing, and you may notice them wearing inappropriate clothing like long sleeves and pants in hot weather. If discovered, a person who self-injures may often make excuses as to how an injury happened, which are often silly.


  • Intentional self inflicted damage to body with expectation of physical harm but without an intention of suicide.

  • Person inflicts pain on self for following reasons-

  1. To get rid of negative thoughts or feelings

  2. To experience positive feelings

  3. To resolve interpersonal difficulty

  4. Person is significantly distressed about their own behaviour

  5. Preoccupation of mind about inflicting harm on self which is hard to resist


  • If someone displays the signs and symptoms of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted.

  • Self-injury treatment options include outpatient therapy, partial-inpatient and inpatient hospitalization.

  • A combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy serves as an effective treatment for self injury.

  • Medication is often useful in the management of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and the racing thoughts that may accompany self-injury.

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