Self Harm


Individuals, especially adolescents and young adults, turn to self-harm when they lack the skills to cope with their emotional distress. When individuals feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry, they may turn to self-harming behaviors.  The self-harm brings temporary relief from the emotional pain or distress they are experiencing in their lives.  Self-harm, which can take the form of cutting, burns, removing bodily hairs, or other forms of mutilation, is a dangerous way to cope with daily stress and mental illness.  The self-harming behavior can also have an addictive quality due to the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a pleasurable sensation. People may either “come alive” or “numb out” when participating in self-harm behavior.  Whatever the reasons, self-harming behavior is complex.

 Signs of self-harm include:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Family therapy, individual therapy and groups can help improve emotional dysregulation, helping to stop the self-harming behaviors.  With time, healthy coping strategies will replace self-harming.


Mayo Clinic – Self Injury