4 Invisible Signs And Dangers Of Self-Harm

A man with a knife



It’s the act of hurting oneself physically (“National Office for Suicide Prevention”, 2022). Be it through cutting, scratching, picking scabs and starving themselves (“Self-injury/cutting – Symptoms and causes”, 2022).

Self-harming is often seen in younger adolescents between the age of 15 to 24, and it’s more common in females than males (Singhal, Ross, Seminog, Hawton & Goldacre, 2014; Polanin & Seymour, 2022). A study of almost 600,000 participants from 41 countries, Gillies and her team of researchers found that 16.9% of the participants have harmed themselves.

The first question that comes across the public’s mind is ‘why’. 

Often, it’s frowned upon and misunderstood as young teenagers just seeking attention. But, in truth, it’s a coping mechanism to control their negative emotions, be it anger, sadness or even to “feel something” from their emotionless state. 

Here are four invisible signs of self-harming and the dangers of it 

Sign number 1, They always cover themselves up regardless of the weather. 

One of the early signs of people who self-harm tends to cover themselves no matter how warm the weather gets.

It didn’t matter if it’s 90 degrees out there and they are there for a beach party. They dress in long sleeves and long pants, covering up their upper arms and thighs, the few common places of self-harm.  

They are ashamed of their actions, yet they can’t help it. They are afraid of letting their friends know and asking for help as they fear being misunderstood and judged (Psych2Go, 2022).

Sign number 2, They have very low self-esteem.

Individuals who self-harm are often with low self-esteem and think of themselves as worthless.

To them, self-harming is a form of self-punishment as they believe that whatever is happening is their fault, and that they deserve to be in this state (Edmondson, Brennan & House, 2016).

At the same time, self-harming is their coping mechanism to ‘snap’ out of negative thoughts (“Six Reasons Why People Self-Injure”, 2022). They are trapped in a vicious cycle of replacing emotional pain with physical pain. 

Sign number 3, They are emotionally overwhelmed.

It can be seen as emotional changes, be it a burst of emotions or lack of emotions. They have difficulties controlling their emotions and overreacting (“Ball State University”, 2022; “Understanding Teen Cutting and Other Self-Harm Behaviors”, 2022).

Or they are so emotionally drained. Possibly from feeling guilty about a situation that they blame themselves for (PRUSSIEN, 2022). 

Paired with low self-esteem, their emotions spiral downwards and to gain control of their feelings, they turn to self-harm. Pain to reset their negative emotion, which would be quickly followed up with this sense of euphoria known as pain offset relief (Bonvissuto, 2022).

Sign number 4, They show signs of withdrawal from friends and family.

They show signs of depression, feeling empty, and there’s nothing to hope for in the future. They slowly withdraw themselves from their social circle, keeping to themselves and losing interest in hobbies and things they used to love (“Self-harm – Types and signs”, 2022; “Symptoms & Side Effects of Self-Harm & Self-Injury | Piney Ridge Treatment Center”, 2022). 

To ‘feel something’ in their void of numbness, they self-harm (“7 Common Reasons Why Individuals Self Harm & Signs To Spot”, 2022). Physical pain becomes an addictive fix, but it’s a temporary solution before they feel the need to self-harm again. (“Different Types of Self-Harm in Teens | Newport Academy”, 2022). 

Conclusion/Final Thoughts

If you see anyone with these signs, try empathizing and be kind to them. And if you yourself struggle with self-harming, be kind to yourself. It’s difficult to be misunderstood and stereotyped as just ‘attention seekers’ when really, it’s a cry for help. 

Reach out to professional help. Remember that your struggles do not have to be all to yours to bear alone. 


[Include citations in APA format here]

7 Common Reasons Why Individuals Self Harm & Signs To Spot. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://hside.org/why-do-people-self-harm/ 

Ball State University. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.bsu.edu/campuslife/healthsafety/campus-safety/campussafetyhandbook/warningsignsofselfharm

Bonvissuto, D. (2022). Cutting & Self-Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment. Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/cutting-self-harm-signs-treatment

Different Types of Self-Harm in Teens | Newport Academy. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/self-injury/

Edmondson, A., Brennan, C., & House, A. (2016). Non-suicidal reasons for self-harm: A systematic review of self-reported accounts. Journal Of Affective Disorders191, 109-117. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.043

Gillies, D., Christou, M., Dixon, A., Featherston, O., Rapti, I., & Garcia-Anguita, A. et al. (2018). Prevalence and Characteristics of Self-Harm in Adolescents: Meta-Analyses of Community-Based Studies 1990–2015. Journal Of The American Academy Of Child &Amp; Adolescent Psychiatry57(10), 733-741. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2018.06.018

National Office for Suicide Prevention. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/mental-health-services/nosp/resources/booklets/self-harm-and-young-people.pdf

Polanin, M., & Seymour, M. (2022). Self-Injury Is Increasing in Teenage Girls: What Can Parents Do?. Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.center4research.org/self-injury-increasing-teenage-girls-can-parents/

Psych2Go. (2022). 5 Not Obvious Signs of Self Harm [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JjYINIU9hQ

PRUSSIEN, K. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-role-do-emotions-play-in-nssi-4.pdf

Self-harm – Types and signs. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/mental-health/self-harm/self-harm-types-and-signs.html

Self-injury/cutting – Symptoms and causes. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/self-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20350950

Singhal, A., Ross, J., Seminog, O., Hawton, K., & Goldacre, M. (2014). Risk of self-harm and suicide in people with specific psychiatric and physical disorders: comparisons between disorders using English national record linkage. Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine107(5), 194-204. doi: 10.1177/0141076814522033

Six Reasons Why People Self-Injure. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/suicide/6-reasons-why-people-self-injure/

Symptoms & Side Effects of Self-Harm & Self-Injury | Piney Ridge Treatment Center. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.pineyridge.net/disorders/self-harm/causes-effects-symptoms/

Understanding Teen Cutting and Other Self-Harm Behaviors. (2022). Retrieved 31 July 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/teen-cutting-and-self-harm-behaviors-2633862

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