Information about Self-Injury

What is self injury?

How many people self-injure?

Leading researchers on self-injury, believe that self-injury affects 2 to 8 million Americans per year. Some of their later studies, however, have indicated that the number may be somewhat higher. At this point, we're really not sure.

Is self-injury the same as self-mutilation, self-harm, self-abuse, self-injurious behavior syndrome, self-inflicted violence, delicate self-cutting, or coarse self-cutting?

Yes. Self-injury isn't an official disorder yet, so it doesn't have an official name; as a result, everyone who writes a book on the subject makes up his or her own name for it. A few professionals have attempted to make distinctions between some of these terms—Levenkron, for instance, distinguishes between self-injury and self-mutilation—but it's generally accepted that these terms all refer to the same thing. Self-mutilation seems to be the term most accepted among clinicians, but self-injurers often find it demeaning. I use the term self-injury, and occasionally self-harm, because these seem to be the terms that self-injurers prefer. They describe the behavior simply and do not carry demeaning or other unnecessary connotations.

While parasuicide may be used to refer to self-injury, it incorrectly implies that self-injury is connected to suicide, which it isn't. When intent is known, more precise terms should be used.

Are piercings the same as self-mutilation?

Probably not. This is debated among professionals, but even those who allow that it might be self-injury emphasize that it depends on the motivation. Alderman says no, because piercings and tattoos are usually done by someone else and are done to improve your appearance and help you feel less alone: none of these motivations correlates with self-injury.On the other hand, V.J. Turner says that piercings or tattoos may cross over into the realm of self-injury when the person is obsessed with the behavior or craves the experience of pain; other self-inflicted wounds might serve to indicate that something is wrong. Most definitions of self-injury, though, don't include piercings, tattoos, or similar types of body modification at all.

Is self injury something people do for attention?

No. Self-injury is rarely attention-seeking or manipulative; in fact, most self-injurers do it in private and take care to hide the scars. Wearing long sleeves in summer is often one of the only visible signs of self-injury, since self-injurers take such great care to keep it a secret. Turner even classifies self-injury that is "manipulative and attention-getting" apart from typical self-injury, saying that the two have little in common. While others may not take such an extreme position, they tend to agree that manipulative self-injury is much less common that hidden self-injury. Jan Sutton sums it up well when she says, "Self-harm is rarely 'attention-seeking.' Perhaps a more apt description might be 'attention needing.' No matter what the circumstances, self-injury of any sort signals emotional distress and, private or public, should be regarded as the cry for help that it is.

What is the difference between self-injury and a suicide attempt?

Motivation and scale are the two major differences. Self-injury is a coping behavior, so it's done in order to deal with life. The goal may be to release feelings, become calm, punish oneself, or visually express one's pain, but in any case, the person still plans to be alive when it's over. Therefore, the self-harming behaviors are usually not serious enough to cause death (although in cases of extreme anger or intoxication, the person may not realize or care how serious the wounds actually are). Suicide attempts, on the other hand, are done with the apparent intent to die. The person may get her affairs in order beforehand—giving away possessions, writing a note—and will usually try to harm herself seriously enough to cause death.

Why do people self-injure?

For many, many different reasons. In her book Women Living With Self-Injury, Jane Hyman lists twenty-five different reasons for self-injuring! The following, in my opinion, are seven of the most common and most representative:

  1. To release emotions

  2. To show hatred for oneself

  3. To discipline or punish oneself

  4. To feel pain or see blood

  5. To calm racing thoughts

  6. To stop flashbacks or intrusive, vivid memories

  7. To avoid suicide

Essentially, self-injury is a way to cope with life: current problems or past problems, strong feelings or lack of feeling, desire for calm or desire for pain.

Doesn't it hurt?

Surprisingly enough, it often doesn't. Many who self-injure feel a certain sort of numbness during the actual act of self-injury, sometimes to the point where they feel little or no pain at all. On the other hand, some who self-injure do feel pain, but it usually isn't enough to dissuade them from self-harming. Those who self-injure to punish themselves may primarily be seeking pain, but sometimes it may be difficult for them to obtain.

Why is this? Well, when the body is injured, neurotransmitters called endorphins are released. Endorphins—which are also released when you exercise—dull the pain and give the person a general "feel-good" sensation. Some theorists, notably Turner, believe that people can get addicted to these endorphin releases.

Interestingly enough, while self-injurers can endure quite a bit of self-inflicted pain, many have a low tolerance for other types of pain—headaches, pain from illness, or pain inflicted by others. Others try to regard all pain—accidental or otherwise—as self-inflicted, or at least as something they deserved. Some former self-injurers can proudly relate the day when they accidentally cut themselves and thought,Ouch. This hurts! Feeling pain from accidental self-inflicted injury is, paradoxically, often a step towards healing for those who used to be able to see pain, but not feel it.

How to raise awareness about self-injury

Go to and read about NSIAD (National Self-Injury Awareness Day), which is held on March 1st each year. It's important for people, especially those in authority, to know about self-injury so that they can respond compassionately.

 The general public is just beginning to learn about self-injury, but there are at least 2 million self-injurers in the U.S. alone, many of whom have been self-injuring for years. Many have been badly treated because others didn't understand what was really going on. Self-injurers often say they don't know where the idea of self-injury came from—it just came. They often try to hide their self-injury from everyone, because they believe other people will think they are freaks. Sometimes people do respond unkindly.  

info taken from

1-800-273-TALK A 24-hour crisis hotline if you're about to self-harm or are in an emergency situation.

1-800-334-HELP Self Injury Foundation's 24-hour national crisis line.1-877-332-7333 – Real Help For Teens' help line. (Christian Resources)

To Write Love On Her Arms - A non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. LEARN ABOUT CUTTING

Here is a video of Nathan Peterson from the band "Hello Industry". He talks about his cutting and suicide attempt when he was a teen. Here is a link to the band's website.