What is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

Non-suicidal 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 in our definition.

2. Self-injury usually results in immediate physical injury

Injuries typically include cuts, scratches, burns, or bruises 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 as soon as the behavior occurs.

3. Self-injury is separate from suicidal behaviors

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. Socially sanctioned injuries are not NSSI

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.