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 caused by associated psychological problems. Self-mutilation may be done to release emotional pain, anger, or anxiety. It may also be done to rebel against authority, flirt with risk-taking, or feel in control. In some cases, the behavior is outside your emotional control and related to a neurological or metabolic disorder.

Brain—Psychological Organ


Self-mutilation is often associated with psychiatric disorders that may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Self-mutilation is more common in females and adolescents. Other factors that may increase your chance of self-mutilation include:

  • Childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Violence or other abusive relationships in a child's home
  • Being in prison
  • Intellectual disability
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as:     
  • Psychosis
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Antisocial personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Certain metabolic disorders
  • Alcohol use disorder or drug abuse
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • It can also be associated with neurologic or metabolic disorders such as:

  • Tourette syndrome
  • Autism
  • Lesch-Nyhan syndrome
  • Symptoms

    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
  • Certain behavioral symptoms can be signs of self-multilation. These may include:

  • 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
  • Amputation
  • Castration
  • Eye damage
  • Suicide
  • Diagnosis

    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 thinking about 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.

    Medical Treatment

    A doctor will assess whether care needs to be provided right away to treat or prevent further injury.

    Psychologic Treatment

    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:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood regulators
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Prevention

    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.