Self-injury (self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behavior or self-mutilation) can be defined as deliberate, intentional injury to one’s own body that causes damage to the skin and/or underlying tissue. This behavior is usually engaged in to cope with overwhelming and distressing feelings and situations, where the physical pain acts to release the emotional pain. However, the relief one feels is temporary, thereby causing the individual seek out the behavior again and again.
Self harming behaviors serve as a way to regulate strong emotions, distract from emotions, express things that the individual cannot put into words, and to soothe the individual who does not have the ability to regulate themselves via internal mechanisms. Those who engage in self-harm often suffer from a poor sense of self-worth.
The behavior, over time, becomes compulsive and addictive. Like any other addiction, it becomes overwhelmingly difficult to stop, despite the negative consequences of their actions. With self-harm, in particular, endorphins (body’s natural pain killers) are released in the body following injury, which results in positive feelings, even euphoria. These feelings are reinforcing, which is part of why the addiction cycle is difficult to break.
Although self-injury does not usually imply suicidal intent, it must be taken seriously because accidental deaths do occur.