Home » Blogs » Practical Psychoanalysis » Self-Injurious Behavior: Do You Self Harm Without Knowing It?

Self-Injurious Behavior: Do You Self Harm Without Knowing It?

One of the most common symptoms, why people come for individual counseling, is some form of self-injurious behavior. Unfortunately, people do not always recognize it as such and tend to minimize or rationalize the severity of their actions. My hope today is to shed some light on the various forms of self-injurious behaviors plus some of the underlying problems that people, who self injure, face.

Self-injurous Behavior-2Not only adolescent girls self harm

Self-injury is most commonly recognized by parents of adolescent girls, who cut. As a parent, knowing that your child is actively trying to hurt themselves can be a terrifying experience. Self-injurious behavior, however, is not only limited to teenagers. Adults also engage in forms of self harm, some of which are more subtle than others.

Types of self-injurious behavior:

Cutting is the most common form of self-injury among adolescents but there are others:

  • scratching
  • burning
  • pulling ones eyelashes or hair (trichotilomania)
  • obsessive picking on wounds (dermatillomania)
  • drinking excessively or using drugs
  • engaging in promiscuous or risky sexual behavior
  • putting oneself in dangerous situations such as reckless driving
  • getting into fights or engaging in criminal activity
  • suicidal attempt is the most drastic form of self-injury and naturally, the scariest.

Most self-injurious behaviors are non-suicidal 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. The good news is that the majority of self-injurious behavior is non-suicidal. In fact, it is rare for someone, who cuts, scratches or burns to attempt suicide.

Self harm is an attempt to cope

It may sound counter intuitive but self-harming behavior is an attempt to cope. Granted, not a very healthy coping mechanism but a coping mechanism nonetheless. When people have no other way to process their experiences, acting them out in various forms of self-injurious behaviors is often a way to speak without words.

Underlying problems of self-injury

Every person is unique and there may be a variety of reasons why someone resorts to self-injury. Some underlying reasons for self-injury include:

  • anxiety,
  • aggression turned towards the self,
  • low-self esteem,
  • major depressive disorder
  • a way to cope with an overwhelming affect,
  • emotional numbness or
  • an attempt to feel something when all feelings are dissociated due to
  • trauma or abuse;
  • an attempt to communicate when something is going terribly wrong but words are out of reach,
  • difficult or rocky relationships with loved ones – if I had to pick a number one reason why people self-injure, I would probably put my money on this one…

Do you or a loved one self harm without knowing it? Share your experience in the comments below.

Want to take things are step further? I would love to hear from you.

For more articles on common mental health issues, affecting you and your family, subscribe to Mental Health Digest and get the latest issue emailed to you today by leaving your name and email address in the contact form here.

How early childhood trauma affects adult mental health: 1 problem we fail to mention

12 Signs that your teen needs psychoanalytic psychotherapy

4 Unique strategies to successfully manage your anxiety


Self-Injurious Behavior: Do You Self Harm Without Knowing It?

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Inside Family Counseling, LLC in Chicago. She is a Professional Member of the American Counseling Association and a member of Chicago Psychoanalytic Circle of the Freudian School of Quebec, Canada. She is the author of Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, your free, easy-to-read electronic resource on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, plus some suggestions on how to address them. She specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for troubled children and adolescents, who face behavioral and emotional challenges at home and at school. Her mission is to empower, support and guide children, adolescents and their parents to a happy and healthy family. Mihaela also writes a Parenting Blog, where parents find helpful resources and practical tips on how to support their child and adolescent's behavioral and emotional development. You may find out more about her at

28 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
, . (2019). Self-Injurious Behavior: Do You Self Harm Without Knowing It?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.