28 thoughts on “Self-Injurious Behavior: Do You Self Harm Without Knowing It?

  • May 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    As an adolescent and teen I used hammers, screwdrivers, etc on my body. Even to the extent of breaking a collar bone. I was sexually molested between the ages of 12 & 25. The last time I was pregnant with my first. I learned to duck and dodge. I still struggle with this and I am 55 yrs old. In the past 5 1/2 yrs I was with someone who mentally, emotionally, and physically abused me holding me physically captive until I accidentally broke my back ending up in a nursing home. I was given the opportunity to live with my niece upon discharge and now live in another state. I only know that it takes a great deal of self-discipline and control to stop harming oneself. For me it has been a way to redirect the emotional pain. Physical pain is easier to deal with. The old adage ‘sticks & stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is the biggest lie. Emotional pain from words or actions goes deeper and sometimes never completely heals whereas physical wounds not only heal but even the scars fade with time. I wasn’t aware of any loss of self-worth until the past few years. Even after being diagnosed with MDD & PD at the age of 37. What brought me to my knees or laid me out was my children telling me 12 yrs after that diagnosis that they had decided when I became ill with the depression and panic attacks (they would have been 11, 10, & 7 at the time) that they no longer respected me, that I was a weakling, and that they would use the illness to manipulate me. That I believe is why I ended up in an abusive relationship. More self harm. I so want out of the cycle. No more rejection by others or self. No more undeserved punishment. How though? What needs to change?

  • May 27, 2015 at 7:08 am

    I self abused with bad relationship choices and one night stands. When I first had a case of “classic” self abuse, scratching and cutting, my counselor said “Good…this is honest self abuse. Now we can start dealing with it. I almost walked out of her office, but she was right. 10 years self-abuse free now

  • May 27, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I have developed the habit of scratching my skin until it bleeds. Sometimes there is dead skin but other times I am scratching rough skinn, moles, anything that isn’t smooth that I am feel. I look OK in the front but my back is all chewed up from scratching. It seems to be absent minded or anxiety related, but I never did this when I was younger. What gives?

    • May 27, 2015 at 11:53 pm

      Do you perceive yourself as not good enough?

  • May 27, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    I’ve had dermatillomaniamsince I can remember. I pick my scalp. I’m 55 now and this goes back to early childhood. I always thought it was a wierd, bad habit. I honestly don’t know what triggers it, but if I feel a scab I feel pleasure at the sensation of the scab coming off under my fingernail. It doesn’t seem to increase with stress or boredom….it just is. I wish I didn’t do it, but after FIFTY some years I give up on quitting. In the past 5-10 years I’ve also added some trichotillomania, but fortunately just to my face (whiskers a woman doesn’t want) and random body hairs that I’ve decided need to be plucked. I don’t pull my head hair. I have cut/scratched myself when I’ve been furious and hurt by my husband out of frustration for the feeling that I have no voice. That feeling of not being listened to and having no voice goes back to childhood too.

    • May 29, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Thank you LittleMe, Molly, bieverything and Becky, for sharing your experiences. I am sure that your stories will help others, the more silent readers, see that they are not alone in their pain and that there are other people, who have gone through similar experiences and are trying to cope with them. It can be difficult to change the ways we cope, especially if we’ve done it for many years. It’s better late than never. My number one recommendation is to try and speak about your feelings with a therapist. And give it time… It takes time to heal.

  • May 27, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    When I was younger I self harmed by dangerous activities, like racing,any sports that took you to the edge of daring death. I drank,and did drugs.Had attempted suicide.
    Went threw a peroid that I didnt….but now Im older and revisiting past abuse with counciling, and that has triggered the self harming thoughts in wanting to cut.

    • May 29, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Nessa,
      Sometimes, when we revisit and re-experience past traumas in counseling or therapy, some of the old feelings come back to the surface. Keep working with your counselor to find alternative ways to cope with the trauma. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • May 27, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks for this, Mihaela. I’ve been wanting to understand the causes for this. As a meditation teacher, I occasionally meet students students who have this issue.

    Btw, one minor typo: This point is wrongly split to two:
    an attempt to feel something when all feelings are dissociated due to
    trauma or abuse;

  • May 28, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I am 55, diagnosed severe depression and panic disorder at age 35. I recently visited the GP for some antibacterial cream for my fingers. I use my hands a lot in my work as a pianist and artist and I had a few wounds that were taking a while to heal. For years I’ve been a picker, like the lady above, I cannot stand any rough skin, I have to pick or cut it to make it smooth. When I’m stressed I go crazy picking my fingertips until they often bleed. My daughter tells me not to, but I can’t stop. In fact she’s the one who brought it to my attention. I was shocked when the GP asked me how long have I been self harming (!), and whether I do anything else. This guy was on the ball! Really made me see it in a different way. I just thought I have rough hands because of all the work I do with them, but I’m actually quite obsessive. Now I will mention this to my psychiatrist as I haven’t talked about this before.

    • May 29, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Deborah,
      Isn’t that interesting? How we do something without even realizing it?
      I once worked with a boy, who was adopted and had suffered some horrible early infancy neglect and trauma. He used to do the same thing on his fingertips and any wounds on his body. A co-worker of mine pointed out that he was indeed self-injuring. Sometimes, self-injury can be obscure even to ourselves.

  • May 28, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    ◾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…

    I will gladly take your money. This is probably the least common reason for self harm. I did not learn this from a book I learned it from talking with a lot of people who have self harmed. and experiencing my own.

    Not being able to feel or being overwhelmed with feelings would be number one in my book.

    • May 29, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Em,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with self-harm. I certainly do not expect people to take everything I write as the golden rule and you are right to use your personal experience as the most valuable source of information. It has been my experience that the powerful feelings or the opposite of that, emotional numbness, is a result of some kind of rocky relationship dynamic, often times a hurtful and a painful one. One way that we try to cope with the overwhelming affect this brings along is to either numb the pain through self injury or self injure in an attempt to bring awareness to the physical pain as opposed to the emotional one. So, yes, you are absolutely right!

  • May 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    So I have always picked my skin. Less now, I used to scar myself through the obbseivness of “cleaning” my skin (or trying to) as a kid and teen. Yes, sexually abused first decade so internally I can’t stand me and that translates to disgust of my body. That one is easy enough to figure out.
    My question is food issues; specifically starving oneself. It is still an issue for me. The more upset I get the less I eat. I do not meet the criteria for having an eating disorder as it is not about fearing fat or concern over weight gain. I suspect it is about control issues. Food was forced as a kid; you ate what you were given. You did not eat it for dinner you ate it for breakfast. If it was a school day I was lucky because then they’d have to give me something else to take with me. I hated food as a kid because of what I was forced to eat. So why now that after I am almost a 40 year old adult, who buys the groceries in my house, can I still not find anything I want to eat, feel like eating or feel I need to be punished by not eating?! Self harm or no?

    • May 30, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      What you said about feeling disgusting on the inside and thus obsessively cleaning your skin to get rid of the internal feeling is very insightful, yet not always so easy to pinpoint. What you are saying is exactly what I was trying to explain in previous posts about psychoanalysis and how psychoanalysis understands symptoms such as self-injury or anxiety. Eating disorders and food issues are also symptoms – an attempt of the body and the psyche to cope with something that has no other way of being addressed. The meaning of each symptom can only be understood in (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy and is unique to everyone. As you are saying, food was always forced on you and you felt that your eating issues are about “control,” having control over what you eat or not feeling hungry. What specifically is the meaning of that, I cannot say just by having read a paragraph about you, but it sounds to me that you are saying there may be several explanations, including it being a self harm, depriving yourself of what your body needs to self punish? Why do you need to be punished when you have been the one to be mistreated? And who are you punishing really if now you are refusing to accept the forced food? Hope that makes sense…

  • August 22, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Hi there!
    I’m a counseling intern at S.A.F.E. Alternatives in St. Louis, Missouri and wanted to share our information on this blog! If you have any questions please visit http://www.selfinjury.com or 1800 DONT CUT.

    S.A.F.E. Alternatives is a world-renowned treatment program that has helped thousands of people successfully end self-injurious behaviors. It has been in operation for almost 30 years.

    Self-injury affects individuals of all ages, genders, races, and economic status. Self-injury can be described as mutilation of the body or body parts as a way to express emotions that are difficult to verbally communicate. At S.A.F.E. Alternatives self-injury is viewed as an unhealthy coping mechanism rather than an addiction or disease. Coping skills are learned behaviors and at S.A.F.E., we believe self-injury can be unlearned. The S.A.F.E. philosophy believes that individuals have the autonomy to make their own choices. We encourage the individual to delay self-harm, look at what they are feeling, and choose an alternate coping method. By slowing down the urge to self-injure, clients can take control of what once may have seemed like an uncontrollable choice.

    S.A.F.E. Alternatives offers residential and outpatient levels of care. S.A.F.E. Intensive is a voluntary residential program at Center Pointe Hospital located in St. Charles, Missouri. Clients typically stay for four weeks (30 days) and participate in group, individual, and family therapy. The S.A.F.E. Alternatives outpatient clinic, S.A.F.E. Choice, is centrally located in Clayton and offers individual, family, and weekly group psychotherapy for adults and adolescents. The S.A.F.E. Alternatives philosophy and model of treatment focus on shifting control to the client, empowering them to make healthier choices, including the choice to not self-injure.

    For more information about S.A.F.E. Alternatives visit selfinjury.com, call 1 800 DONT CUT, or contact our intake department at (708) 420-9066.

  • November 2, 2017 at 9:29 am

    I am 34. And I don’t know if it’s my place to post here anything. I still haven’t seen any doctor,but I may try to find one to see if I need one.. Well my story is that I have hard time with developing relationships or trust with people.at age 8 I was sexually assaulted (not raped), was always afraid of my mother. Had no father. Few rape attempts when I was a teenager.School drop out. Then I fell in love at 19 and got pregnant.Due to not having a job and having no choice my mother made me go through tough things that caused separation with my son’s father.he never witnessed his son’s birth.my mom took me while I was pregnant overseas without ticket back. I managed to go back with my baby ,but relationship was broken , we were unable to glue our young family back together so my son’s father left us.now my son is 14 . I have a carreer.great business with great income . Now buying my own house. But inside I am very unhappy although making everything else around me somehow happy. Like donating to shelters,providing my son great home and education ,helping animals… But myself I am barely eating .If I eat I feel guilty. I smoke a lot of cigarettes and I feel disgusted at the end of the day..i get angry for no reason. I cry a lot and every rope I see seems as opportunity of hanging myself one day. But a cocktail of anorexic and migraine prescriptions every morning helps to stay somehow happy , sane and focused . And I do take a bit more then I should … If i run out I feel like it’s the end not only of medication but everything all together.. so I don’t know what to do and I don’t know if I am or am not making mistake by commenting here. Maybe I just need advice or resources..

    • December 5, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Med,
      I am sorry that it took me awhile to respond to your comment. It sounds to me that by commenting on this post, you are essentially saying that you need to talk to someone about what has happened to you and the effects it has had on you. I would encourage you to do so soon.

      • August 31, 2018 at 8:37 am

        So here I am. After reaching out to a good friend that has experience with his daughters psychological problems, really helped me to lean on and to feel better. Meaning he was just a phone call away if I needed to talk or had “down thoughts”. I left the past behind me . Simply decided one day to shut that door and move on. I did gained over 20 lbs unfortunately, but it’s because I guess I started to love myself a bit more and I quit smoking for 4 months . Now I am in remission but will try again. I am still working on the prescription addiction problem, but I know I will get to a good place. Bought that new house so I’m trying to create a better happy memories here from now on. Got the membership to the gym . The group high intense training one . That helps a lot and is very motivating. But at the end my son who is a freshman now and a football player really gets me going. I get myself involved more in that and really enjoy it. Maybe because as a drop out I did not had a chance to experience high school life. And he does so GOOD! A’s and B’s and few touchdowns. Makes me so proud. But at the same time I am so ashamed inside for what I was feeling and thinking … I just believe that no matter all the obstacles we all can overcome that pain and get better and even stronger . That’s my goal – my touchdown. That’s my promise to myself . And thank you for this blog. I believe it helped me somewhat as I had a chance to express my feelings publicly yet without talking to no one but at that same time reaching out to someone ? I think a lot of people need that for some kick start self help! THANK YOU!

      • September 30, 2018 at 10:04 pm

        I am so glad you found the blog post helpful. It’s great to know that I can be of help.

  • May 9, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    I have struggled with some type of self harm from my teens.I was sexually abused by two men between the ages of 8 and ten, My dad was emotionally, verbally abusive.
    I am in my 50s in therapy. We have been targeting emotions that the inner child holds. Those areas that are difficult to access and even want to. THe emotional parts are very confusing and have a lot of self hatred attached. When I get overwhelmed I self harm …I just want to stop the emotional pain.

    • September 30, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing and I apologize for the delayed reply. Self-harm is not uncommon for survivors of childhood sexual abuse or people, who have grown up in abusive households. I am so glad to hear that you are addressing this in therapy. It can take some time but don’t give up!

  • August 31, 2018 at 4:48 am

    I find myself banging my legs against my bed post (which have iron sides) whenever I’m in one of my “episodes”. Whenever I feel sad or just unhappy for whatever reason, I would take my leg and bang it against the post. During the night, my mom would hear and would ask about the noise in the morning, but of course I don’t tell her because who the heck would bruise themselves on purpose? I also enjoy any bruise or cut, scrape, wound, that I get after a bad fall or whatnot. I would always apply pressure on it, or hurt it even more if I could. I never noticed this “coincidence” until around a month ago. I’m not sure if this is me self harming unknowingly or I’m just weird?

    • September 30, 2018 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing. Self-injurious behaviors have different causes. It is always helpful to consult with a professional to rule out a mood disorder, for example, that may be underlying the behavior. There may be a treatable condition behing these “episodes.”

  • January 19, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I use tweasers and rip the skin of my lips until they bleed but I don’t know why I do it and my parents haven’t found out I don’t know what to do

  • March 9, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    i have recognised that i have been doing things that seem to harm me again in the past few weeks, and in various forms; i pick my lips until they bleed, bite the skin off of my knuckles, and bite the sides of my tongue until it hurts too much. I used to cut, but it was too noticeable.
    i’m not quite sure if it is anxiety or something else, but i can’t seem to stop.

    • March 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Cassidy,
      Behaviors like the ones you describe could be due to anxiety. What you may want to think about is what is causing you to feel anxious, what are some thoughts and feelings that you have while you are doing those behaviors as well as what thoughts and feelings you are having before you start doing those behaviors. Once you are able to recognize what triggers you to self-injure or to bite your tongue, etc. then you can try to use alternative behaviors or coping skills to manage your emotions. A therapist would be able to help you think through those things and potentially point you in a direction of coping differently with your emotions.
      Hope this helps.

  • March 25, 2020 at 1:24 am

    Ever since I was 11 I’ve self-harmed before I even knew that I was. It started off with me pulling my hair out, My family up north often ignored me and forgot I was there, I desperately couldn’t wait till summer was over. My family would tell my mother that I never communicated with them when it was really the opposite, they treated my more troublemaker younger sister better than me and paid her more attention, I didn’t know it then but I stumbled into depression. Finally I went back home and not long after I was diagnosed with trichotilomania. I grew my air back within a few months although I barely had any hair in the middle of my scalp. I turned 12 and I never talked about it. When I turned 13 that’s when it all happened again, I didn’t mention but there was an abuser in my life and it was going on before I was even 11 but I didn’t bother to realize how bad it was until I was around 12 and 13, when I was 13 I started to feel anxiety, I hated to be touched, I would cry every night… I stopped caring for myself… I stopped showering everyday, my room was a disaster and you could barely walk in there, I didn’t bother with my hair, I was gaining weight much more faster… no one understood me and I started to feel suicidal, I started to cut a few days after my 13th birthday and my friends all talked about there problems but there was no room for me. My best friend would always rely on me to give her advice and she always had drama, I was getting fed up and even contemplated to stop being her friend, I knew if I did that I would
    Be a full loner since she was the only true friend I cared about, especially at that time. My cutting got worse over Christmas break since you know… I’m at home 24/7 so it got worse then. I had a lot of panic attacks and by early March late February… I had tried to tell my best friend and she straight up said to my face “Your not depressed, I’m depressed… I know what depression is and your always smiling and laughing, your not depressed” and before that I tried to tell her I was cutting and she said “You don’t have a reason too so cut it out” after that I gave up trying to tell her… I was convinced maybe I didn’t have a reason… I never actually attempted to take my life but that’s because my cuts were never too deep to bleed out, I’ve tried… but I never went too far, although that’s up to you to decide what is too far. Around late March and early April I started to pull my hair again, it wasn’t as bad as last time. Also I failed to mention I Became sexually active, whether it was taking pics or meeting up with strangers because I had the body of a young adult… Either way, I had many forms of self-harm… By late May my boyfriend was aware of my self-harm and he made me promise not to do it again… I tried but didn’t keep my promise, I cut…. badly after a fight with my parents, I made 6 cuts on my left arm and 2 on my right although only 2 cuts on my left and 1 on my right scarred, although 1 on my left was VERY hard to cover up since it was big and deeper than any other I made, My close friend found out and I nearly broke down, she made me promise not to do it again or she’d tell my parents… A week later my older sister saw it too but I made up a lie that I was Messing around in the kitchen, she didn’t buy it but didn’t question it either. After that I didn’t cut for a while and went on a diet and lost a lot of weight, I took better care of myself and jogged more, bathed more, I brushed my hair more, I tried on makeup and wasn’t as tomboyish as the year before. Although… I still have breakdowns and nightmares from that trauma I mentioned but I won’t go into detail about that, even as a 14 year old or above that sometimes I scratch myself when I’m angry, upset, having an anxiety attack… I can’t even hold a razor anymore, it’s too much for me to handle so I use nair to shave instead… there’s times where I want to self-harm, but I don’t… I know if I start again, it will lead to another cycle of misery and I won’t be able to stop easily, i May even get caught by my parents this time. I’m lucky that they never found out, my dad didn’t take my trichotilomania that well and blamed me, my mom was to distraught, so I’m glad I handled it on my own although I hope I won’t have to deal with it again. I still have bad, bad anxiety and my parents don’t take it very seriously, I have depression still… my mom suspects and my dad has no idea about that, although my depression isn’t as bad as a few years ago, me and my best friend are closer now and she stopped treating me badly like before… although she may notice that I don’t tell her everything or if anything, she tells me everything but I don’t trust her enough to tell her because she is known to be judgmental as I’ve mentioned. Anyways I’ll be going now, just wanted to share my story


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