Common Characteristics of the Self-Injurer

There are various reasons why self-injurers hurt themselves. However, self-injurers also share common psychological characteristics.

Although self-injury is recognized as a common problem among the teenage population, it is not limited to adolescents. People of all sexes, nationalities, socioeconomic groups and ages can be self-injurers.

Self-injurers suffer in silent shame and isolation. It is estimated that self-injurers comprise at least 1% of the population, with a higher proportion being female, and nearly half admitting to being victims of physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood. A significant number of self-mutilators also suffer from eating disorders, alcohol abuse and/or drug abuse problems, personality disorders, and/or mood disorders. While each self-mutilator has a different story to tell, all share certain characteristics:

  • The self-harm behavior is recurrent.
  • The self-injurer experiences a mounting sense of fear, dread, anxiety, anger, or tension before the event.
  • A sense of relief accompanies the event.
  • A sense of deep shame follows.
  • The self-injurer attempts to cover-up any evidence (e.g. scars) of his/her act.

More on the psychological characteristics common in self-injurers here

The Adolescent Self-injurer

Some adolescents may self-mutilate to take risks, rebel, reject their parents' values, state their individuality or merely be accepted. Others, however, may injure themselves out of desperation or anger to seek attention, to show their hopelessness and worthlessness, or because they have suicidal thoughts. These children may suffer from serious psychiatric problems such as depression, psychosis, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder. Additionally, some adolescents who engage in self-injury may develop Borderline Personality Disorder as adults. Some young children may resort to self-injurious acts from time to time but often grow out of it. Children with mental retardation and/or autism as well as children who have been abused or abandoned may also show these behaviors.


  • Levenkron, S. (1998) Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation. New York: W. W. Norton
  • The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Self-Injury In Adolescents, No. 73, Dec. 1999.

next: Who self-injures? Psychological Characteristics Common in Self-Injurers

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 4). Common Characteristics of the Self-Injurer, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: June 24, 2011

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info