PTSD Related Conditions Forms of Self-Harm Common in People With PTSD By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 28, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Getty Images Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Self-mutilation in people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD self-mutilation), and in general, is deliberate and direct self-harm, such as cutting or burning, with the intent to injure or destroy body tissues. Self-mutilation (also called self-harm or self-injury) isn't an attempt at suicide, but it does result in injury severe enough to cause tissue damage. Prevalence of Self-Harming in People With PTSD Self-harm is usually a reaction to a traumatic experience or set of experiences, with sexual abuse being the most common trigger. One review study, for example, found that many people who self-harm on a regular basis had experienced child maltreatment, particularly sexual abuse. According to the National Center for PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs, self-harm is unusual but not extremely so: It is estimated that in the general public, 2% to 6% engage in self-harm at some point in their lives. Among students, the rates are higher, ranging from 13% to 35%. Rates of self-harm are also higher among those in treatment for mental health problems. Those in treatment who have a diagnosis of PTSD are more likely to engage in self-harm than those without PTSD. Reasons for Self-Harming It appears that deliberate self-harm is a way of expressing and managing negative emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, shame, and/or anger. Deliberate self-harm may also provide a temporary escape from emotional pain. However, although it may bring a kind of temporary relief from painful emotions, the emotions may return and intensify afterward. People who have PTSD may use deliberate self-harm as a way of "coming to"—getting back in touch with the present moment (also called "grounding"). In this form of PTSD self-mutilation, when people with PTSD experience dissociation or flashbacks, they may do self-harm, such as cutting or burning, to "shock" their bodies back into the present moment and end the dissociation or flashbacks. Impulsive Behaviors in PTSD What Does PTSD Self-Harm Look Like? While more severe cases of self-harming may be obvious, many people injure themselves secretly and hide the resulting wounds or scars. As a result, it may not be obvious that someone is self-harming until a major issue arises. Self-mutilation behaviors may include: CuttingBurningNeedle-stickingHead-bangingSkin-carvingSevere scratchingPunching oneselfBiting oneself Cutting, skin-carving, severe scratching, head-banging, and punching oneself are some of the most common methods of self-injury. Treatment Options for PTSD Treatment for PTSD Self-Harm Deliberate self-harm is a seriously injurious behavior. The injury itself may be serious, requiring medical care, and untreated injuries may become infected. Unless a self-harming person gets treatment to help stop it, the mutilations may get more severe over time. Of course, self-harm is not a cure for any of the unresolved emotions that cause the behavior; as a result, self-mutilation is unlikely to resolve itself. The most common treatment for self-harming is psychological therapy. Although self-harm is associated with other issues, therapy is most effective when it focuses specifically on self-mutilation. Once the behavior is managed, it is possible to address the underlying trauma and emotional distress that caused it. Resources for People Who Need Help If you are cutting, burning, or otherwise harming yourself, or if you know someone who is, it's very important to seek help. The S.A.F.E. Alternatives website provides resources and referrals for people struggling with deliberate self-harm. PTSD: Coping, Support, and Living Well 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Dixon-gordon KL, Tull MT, Gratz KL. Self-injurious behaviors in posttraumatic stress disorder: an examination of potential moderators. J Affect Disord. 2014;166:359-67. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.05.033 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Institute on Mental Health. Revised May 2019. Serafini G, Canepa G, Adavastro G, et al. The Relationship between Childhood Maltreatment and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury: A Systematic Review. Front Psychiatry. 2017;8:149. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00149 PTSD: National Center for PTSD: Self-Harm and Trauma. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Gratz KL, Tull MT. Exploring the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder and deliberate self-harm: the moderating roles of borderline and avoidant personality disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2012;199(1):19-23. Viana AG, Dixon LJ, Berenz EC, Espil FM. Trauma and deliberate self-harm among inpatient adolescents: The moderating role of anxiety sensitivity. Psychol Trauma. 2017;9(5):509-517. doi:10.1037/tra0000161 Lauw M, How CH, Loh C. PILL Series. Deliberate self-harm in adolescents. Singapore Med J. 2015;56(6):306-8. doi:10.11622/smedj.2015087 Krüger A, Kleindienst N, Priebe K, et al. Non-suicidal self-injury during an exposure-based treatment in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and borderline features. Behav Res Ther. 2014;61:136-41. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! 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