A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying Different Types of Self-Harm

A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying Different Types of Self-Harm

A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying Different Types of Self-Harm

Self-harm is a coping strategy that can help relieve emotional pain. It can be difficult to break the habit, especially if it becomes a daily routine.

If you know someone who hurts themselves, be gentle and encourage them to seek treatment. A GP, school counselor or psychologist can help.

Table of Contents


Cutting involves using a sharp object, often a knife or other blade, to cut the skin. It is commonly viewed as one of the most dangerous types of self-harm, and while it has been linked to suicide, many people who hurt themselves don’t intend to kill themselves.

Someone who engages in this type of behavior may have a lot of unexplained wounds or scars, wear long sleeves to hide cuts and scratches and carry a razor with them for easy access. They may also be secretive and hesitant to show any emotional distress.

Self-harm individuals are at a higher risk for mental health problems like depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Identifying different types of self-harm includes turning to drugs and alcohol for relief from painful feelings.


Although rarer than cutting, burning is another method of self-harm that can cause serious damage. Burning the skin is often used to distract from painful thoughts and feelings and can also be a punishment.

People who hurt themselves this way may hide their marks and go to extreme lengths to avoid getting caught. Usually, this is because they feel ashamed of the behavior and don’t want others to know about it.

It’s important to recognize that these behaviors aren’t healthy or productive, and it can help to talk about them with a professional. A therapist can help someone understand why they are engaging in this behavior and teach them healthier ways to cope with distressing emotions.


Stripping is a common method of self-injury, particularly among adolescents. Also known as self-mutilation or non-suicidal self-injury involves cutting or damaging the skin and can lead to feelings of shame, self-loathing, helplessness and emptiness.

Participants reported experiencing extreme and distressing economic hardship, including being unable to find work, benefit changes or sanctions, increasing debt and housing difficulties. The combination of these issues led to a sense of being stripped down to survival and the use of self-harm as a way to cope. For some, it was an ongoing issue; for others, an event triggered the behavior, such as a call from a debt collection agency. For many, the behavior became an addictive and coping strategy.


Many people scrape their skin to relieve internal tension, pressure or distress. The behavior can cause dermatitis, blood in urine and severe injuries that only graft surgery can repair. It is most common among teenagers and can also be associated with other coping mechanisms such as biting, hitting, scratching or swallowing foreign objects.

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For example, scraping price data from competitor websites to gain an advantage over them in the market can be considered malicious. It is a practice that can undermine business growth and profitability.


Poisoning is when someone deliberately takes something that can harm their health or cause death. This could be anything from snail pellets, insect repellent or paint to illegal drugs, prescription medication and household products.

A poison can be swallowed, absorbed through the skin, injected or inhaled into the lungs. The poisoning symptoms can vary greatly depending on the type of poison and the age and underlying health of the person taking it. Some poisons may only have mild symptoms, while others can be fatal.

Identifying the poison is important for treatment, which may involve supporting heart and blood pressure, preventing vomiting or seizures (fits), increasing elimination or giving a specific antidote. Labels on bottles or information from the person or their family can help identify drugs or poisons, although this is not always possible.


This type of self-harm involves sticking objects into the skin or muscle. It can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening injuries and is usually a sign of severe distress or emotional pain. It’s also often accompanied by low self-esteem, shame, and isolation.

Stabbing often starts in the preteen and teen years, when emotions can be intense, overwhelming, and change quickly. It’s also more common in girls and people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. When someone you know tells you they self-harm, don’t react with shock, disgust or anger. This will only drive their behavior underground and cause them more distress. Instead, listen to them and reassure them that they don’t have to cope alone. You can also offer other ways to help them deal with their emotions, such as distraction strategies.


Often, when people self-harm, they will leave marks on their bodies. This can include scratches, bites or scabs. The most common place for them to do this is on the legs or arms. They may also do it on their neck or face, but this is less common.

They will normally keep this behavior a secret and wear clothes that cover up the marks they have made. People who self-harm tend to be isolated and may feel that no one cares.

It’s important that people who are concerned about someone self-harming talk to them in a non-judgemental way and listen to them. It is not about labeling them as crazy or dangerous – it’s about helping them find other ways to cope with their intense emotions.