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What is self-injury?

Home / About Self-Injury / What is self-injury?

Nonsuicidal self-injury is the deliberate, self-directed damage of body tissue without suicidal intent and for purposes not socially or culturally sanctioned.

​There are several key elements to our definition:

1. The harm is intentional or expected

Risky behaviors that could result in harm, such as not wearing a seatbelt while driving, or behaviors that can result in accidental harm, such as playing extreme sports, are typically excluded under our definition.

2. The injury results in immediate physical injury

Behaviors that do not directly result in physical injury are typically excluded under our definition, even though they may be harmful or dangerous. For instance, food restriction is typically not considered a form of NSSI since the associated physical damage tends to build up over time, instead of happening as soon as the behavior occurs.

3. Is not intended to cause death

While suicidal thoughts may be present when someone self-injures, the self-injury itself is not intended to cause death. Some people may use self-injury to manage suicidal urges or intense distress related to suicidal thoughts. Self-injury enacted with suicidal intent is not classified as NSSI.

4. Is not part of social or cultural practices

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. Behaviors such as body modification, body piercing, tattooing, and religious self-flagellation are not usually considered forms of self-injury.



Klonsky, E. D., Victor, S. E., & Saffer, B. Y. (2014). Nonsuicidal self-injury: What we know, and what we need to know. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry59, 565-568.

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