Self-injury usually occurs when people face what seem like overwhelming or distressing feelings. Sufferers may feel that self-injury is a way of:

  • Temporarily relieving intense feelings, pressure, or anxiety
  • Being real, being alive, or feeling something
  • Being able to feel pain on the outside instead of the inside
  • Being a means to control and manage pain – unlike the pain experienced through physical or sexual abuse
  • Providing a way to break emotional numbness (the self-anesthesia that allows someone to cut without feeling pain)
  • Asking for help in an indirect way or drawing attention to the need for help
  • Attempting to affect others by manipulating them, trying to make them care, trying to make them feel guilty, or trying to make them go away

Self-injury also may be a reflection of a person’s self-hatred. Some self-injurers are punishing themselves for having strong feelings that they were usually not allowed to express as children. They also may be punishing themselves for somehow being bad and undeserving. These feelings are an outgrowth of abuse and a belief that the abuse was deserved.

Even though there is the possibility that a self-inflicted injury may result in life-threatening damage, self-injury is not considered to be suicidal behavior.