The methods of self-harm can vary drastically, although experts believe that cutting or scratching remains the most common method of inflicting self-injury among those who practice this behavior. People who cut or scratch themselves might use razor blades, sharp pieces of broken glass, their own fingernails, or other implements capable of inflicting such wounds. Other self-harming methods can include burning with cigarettes or sources of flame, hitting oneself, pinching oneself to the point of bruising or breaking one's skin, pulling out the hair or tearing off scabs. Some people who practice self-harm might fling their bodies against walls or other hard surfaces, or might punch these surfaces. Methods of self-harm can also include inserting foreign objects, such as bits of wire or glass, beneath the skin, swallowing toxic or potentially toxic substances, overdosing on over-the-counter medications, or eating inedible objects.
Scratching, cutting and burning may be among the most common self-harm methods. Some people self-harm by ripping off scabs, so that their injuries heal slowly or don't heal at all. Hitting oneself, throwing oneself against hard surfaces, or punching hard surfaces also serve as methods of self-harm for some.
Less common methods of self-harm can include swallowing inedible objects, or substances that could be toxic. These substances often include over-the-counter medications. People who self-harm by swallowing toxic substances or inedible objects often aren't attempting suicide, even if the behavior could be potentially fatal. Many simply don't realize that swallowing these substances, drugs, or objects could kill them.
Most people who harm themselves don't intend to do themselves serious injury. Experts typically don't classify self-harming behaviors as suicidal behaviors, since many people who practice self-harm don't have suicidal thoughts or feelings. People who self-harm generally struggle with painful emotions that they don't know how to express, or feel they can't express. People who practice self-harm often say that the physical pain they experience during the act helps them cope more easily with their emotional distress.
Most experts agree that people who practice methods of self-harm are attempting to cope with unpleasant and often painful life circumstances and experiences. Such people are typically young and lack the coping skills to deal with their painful feelings in non-self-harming ways. Events and circumstances that can lead to self-harming behaviors can include child sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, depression, feelings of low self-worth, and anxiety disorders. Although most people who practice self-harm are adolescents, the behavior can continue into adulthood without treatment.