Self-mutilation or self-injury is any form of self-harm inflicted on your body without the intent to commit suicide. Self-mutilation may be done to release emotional pain, anger, or anxiety; to rebel against authority; to flirt with risk-taking; or to feel in control. In some cases, the behavior is outside your emotional control and related to a neurological or metabolic disorder.
Self-mutilation may be caused by associated psychological problems.
Factor that increase your chance of developing this condition include:
- Sex: female
- Age: adolescence
- Childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
- Violence or other abusive relationships in a child's home
- Being in prison
- Intellectual disability
- Certain metabolic disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance abuse, such as alcoholism or drug abuse
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
- Antisocial personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
It can also be associated with neurologic or metabolic disorders such as:
The symptoms of self-mutilation vary. The most common symptoms include:
- Cutting of skin with a sharp object
- Skin carving or burning
- Self-punching or scratching
- Needle sticking
- Head banging
- Eye pressing
- Finger, lips, or arm biting
- Pulling out one's hair
- Picking at one's skin
- Wearing long sleeves or pants, even in hot weather
- Claiming to have frequent accidents
- Relationship difficulties
- Behavioral and emotional difficulties
Rarely, in very severe cases, self-mutilation can include:
- Broken bones
Self-mutilation can be difficult to diagnose. People who self-mutilate often feel guilty and ashamed about their behavior. They may try to hide it. Physical harm caused by self-mutilation may be the first sign noticed during an exam. To be diagnosed, symptoms should meet the following criteria:
- Excess concern with physically harming oneself
- Inability to resist harming oneself, resulting in tissue damage
- Increased tension before and a sense of relief after self-injury
- Having no suicidal intent in the self-mutilation
To make an accurate diagnosis, the psychologist or psychiatrist will assess other conditions, such as personality or mood disorders, and whether there is suicidal intent. A psychosocial assessment may also be given to assess a person’s mental capacity, level of distress, and presence of mental illness.
Treatment usually includes medical and psychological treatment, as well as medications.
A doctor will assess whether care needs to be provided right away to treat or prevent further injury.
Psychologic treatment may be done either one-to-one or in a group setting. It is usually aimed at finding and treating the underlying emotional difficulty, trauma, or disorder. It may also include cognitive behavioral therapy.
Medications used include:
- Mood regulators
The best prevention is to get help as soon as possible for depression, trauma, emotional problems, or other disorders that may lead to self-mutilation.
- Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD; Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 07/2013 -
- Update Date: 05/11/2013 -