Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Self-Injury

Understanding the Signs of Self-Harm

Understanding the signs of self-harm

Self-injury, also referred to as self-harm or self-mutilation, is defined as any act that is done to intentionally cause harm to one’s own body. While the idea of harming oneself seems like completely irrational behavior, for those who engage in these acts it is a way for them to express and deal with distress and emotional pain. Individuals who self-harm don’t know any other way of coping with feelings such as sadness, emptiness, guilt, and anger. Unfortunately, the relief that accompanies self-injury doesn’t last very long and while it may temporarily mask feelings, it doesn’t fix the underlying emotional issues that have led the individual to start engaging in self-mutilation in the first place. Some of the main reasons why someone may engage in self-harm may be to:

  • Express feelings you can’t put into words
  • Relieve guilt and as a means of punishment
  • Release the pain and tension you may feel
  • Help you to feel more in control
  • Distract oneself from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
  • Make you feel anything at all other than being numb

When people hear “self-harm,” the first thing that tends to come mind to is “cutting” however there are a number of different ways in which individuals can self-injure, such as burning or hitting oneself. Most people who engage in cutting are not doing so as an attempt to commit suicide; however death may be the long-term result. While this behavior serves a purpose for a certain number of individuals, it is not a healthy way of coping with problems and, in fact, causes more problems to develop. Engaging in self-mutilation may lead to a sense of relief immediately following the act, but is quickly followed by shame and self-loathing.

Recovery from self-injury is possible as individuals learn more adaptive and healthy coping mechanisms. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be used by a therapist to help patients recognize the ways in which their negative thoughts can impact their behaviors and help them turn those thoughts to be more positive ones. Inpatient hospitalization can be very helpful at treating a person who self-injures, as it allows for removal from everyday stresses and focuses on treating the whole person.


Statistics for self-harm

Self-harm is most common in teens and adolescents, beginning between the ages of 12 and 24, however this does not mean that self-harm is limited to this group. It’s been estimated that two million people from different races, ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, and areas of the United States engage in non-suicidal self-injury.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for self-harm

Self-injury is not considered to be the result of a single cause or risk factor, but instead a combination of factors working together to cause the development of self-harm. Some of the most common causes for self-harm include:

Genetic: Many mental illnesses that are associated with self-harming behaviors are hereditary, or passed down from family members.

Environmental: People who have had a history of childhood neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are at a higher risk for developing self-harm as a way of coping with the resulting painful emotions. Additionally, people who were raised in families that discouraged expression of strong emotions are at a greater risk for developing self-injury.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a peer group that self-injures
  • Lack of social support
  • Inability to express emotions
  • Being a teenager or adolescent
  • Being a teen female
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor problem-solving abilities


Symptoms of self-harm

Since many individuals go to great lengths to hide their self-harm and because it manifests in many different ways, it can be hard to identify when a loved one or friend is engaging in this behavior. Symptoms will vary upon method used, frequency, and severity. Symptoms may include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Shallow or deep cutting marks on arms, legs, or other parts of the body
  • Carrying tools of self-injury (i.e. razors) in personal belongings
  • Banging head or other body parts against hard objects
  • Hitting oneself
  • Sticking objects into the skin
  • Picking at old wounds to prevent wound healing
  • Ingesting poisonous substances or other inappropriate objects
  • Frequent “accidents”
  • Wearing long pants or sleeves in hot weather
  • Social isolation
  • Needing to be alone for increasingly long periods
  • Increasingly secretive behaviors
  • Dermatillomania
  • Trichotillomania
  • Burning skin

Physical Symptoms:

  • Blood-soaked tissues
  • Cuts that won’t heal
  • Unexplained, frequent injuries
  • Patches of baldness on scalp from hair-pulling
  • Broken bones
  • Blood stains on clothing, bedding

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Self-loathing
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, rage


Effects self-harm can have

People who engage in long-term chronic self-harming behaviors are at great risk for developing major complications. Some of the complications of self-harming behaviors include:

  • Increasing social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Worsening of emotional health
  • Worsening of physical health
  • Broken bones
  • Blood infections
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Poisoning
  • Organ system damage
  • Coma
  • Accidental death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Self-harm & co-occurring disorders

Many people who engage in self-injury are struggling with co-occurring mental illnesses. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Our location in Midvale, Utah, allows residents of the greater SLC area to get help with self harm tendencies and related health issues. Call our counselors today for a confidential screening and take a step on the road to recovery.

I was embarrassed and ashamed at first, but Highland Ridge helped me realize that I'm strong, and I can and will get better.

– Peyton B.