What is Nonsuicidal Self-Injury?

The International Society for the Study of Self-Injury defines non-suicidal self-injury as the deliberate, self-inflicted damage of body tissue without suicidal intent and for purposes not socially or culturally sanctioned.

This definition has several important parts:

  1. First, the harm that results from self-injury is an intentional or expected consequence of the behavior. Risky behaviors that could result in harm, such as not wearing a seatbelt while driving, or accidental harm, that may occur when playing extreme sports, are typically excluded in our definition.
  2. Second, self-injury usually results in some sort of immediate physical injury, including cuts, bruises, scratches, or marks on the skin. Behaviors that do not directly result in injuries are usually excluded, even though they may be harmful or dangerous. For instance, food restriction is typically not considered a form of self-injury since the associated physical damage tends to build up over time instead of happening all at once when the behavior occurs.
  3. Third, self-injury is separate from suicidal thoughts or behaviors, in which individuals want to end their lives. People usually report that they have no expectation or intention to cause death when they engage in self-injury. In fact, in some cases, self-injury may be used to manage intense distress that may associate with suicidal thinking 1.
  4. Finally, behaviors that might cause physical damage but are acceptable in our society, or part of a recognized cultural, spiritual or religious ritual, are not considered self-injury. For this reason, body modification, body piercing or tattooing are not usually considered forms of self-injury.

Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is often used interchangeably with self-injury, though it is important to bear in mind that self-injury may carry lethal and non-lethal intent. Sometimes, NSSI is also referred to deliberate self-harm; however, this term is typically much broader in scope and encompasses any self-inflicted injury, regardless of intent. Though less frequent, NSSI is sometimes referred to by focusing on particular methods (e.g., self-cutting). While cutting is among the most widely recognized forms of self-injury, the behavior can take many other forms, including burning, hitting, or scratching oneself. Furthermore, many people who self-injure report using more than method during their lives 2 3.


Want to cite this definition? Our recommended format is:

International Society for the Study of Self-injury. (2018, May). What is self-injury? Retrieved from: https://itriples.org/about-self-injury/what-is-self-injury.

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