What is Self-Harm Abuse in Adults?

What is self-harm abuse in adults? You may have heard about self-harm abuse in relation to children, adolescents, and teenagers, as these populations often experience high rates of it. But, when it comes to adults, the idea of self-harm might not be one that comes to mind immediately. Self-harm is a behavioral condition that impacts people of all ages, including adults. Those adults who do not seek help for their self-harm are likely to continue to harm themselves and potentially compromise their own lives. Thankfully, self-harm can be treated with professional, specified care.

What is Self-Harm Abuse in Adults?

Unlike mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, there is no connection to the function of the brain and self-harm abuse, as self-harm is not a mental health condition. Instead, those adults who engage in self-harm are experiencing behaviors that are not conducive to their wellbeing. These behaviors are conducted as an unhealthy means of coping with feelings, emotions, or situations that the adult does not have healthy coping skills to deal with. 

In the United Kingdom, for example, studies have shown that self-harm continues to increase in adults even though this condition impacts children and teenagers more often. Both adult men and women are known to self-harm and are more likely to do so via overdose or self-poisoning than through physical injury to themselves. That does not mean that physical harm is not something adults with this behavioral condition engage in, as they do. 

So, what is self-harm abuse in adults? Adults who self-harm may engage in the following purposeful behaviors as a means to achieve relief from painful and distressing emotions:

  • Cutting themselves
  • Carving into their skin
  • Burning themselves
  • Breaking their bones 
  • Pulling their hair out
  • Bruising themselves
  • Hitting or punching themselves

For many adults, self-harming provides a “rush” that becomes addictive. This occurs as a result of endorphins being triggered at the time of the injury. Learning what causes this behavioral condition can help in developing a stronger understanding of self-harm in adults.

What Causes Self-Harm?

Self-harm does not occur out of thin air, rather it is something that usually develops in response to a bigger issue, such as mental illness, one’s environment, or one’s ability to express their emotions.

Mental Illness

What is self-harm in adults? For many, it is a way of coping with a much bigger problem. Self-harm is a common symptom of several various mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Those who experience these mental illnesses are at greater risk for self-harm, especially if they go untreated. These specific mental illnesses often leave individuals feeling out of control and frequently experiencing highs and lows with their emotions. 


Adults who have experienced traumatic events in their lives such as neglect, abuse, or abandonment are at increased risk for self-harming as adults. This comes from a need to manage significant emotional distress but not being able to do so in a healthy way. Self-harm in adults is more common in those who have not sought treatment for their trauma, as they are less likely to have established the skills to cope with the negative experiences in their lives. 

Problems Expressing Emotions

Many adults find that when they get older, they have not developed healthy ways of expressing themselves. Whether it be because of a mental illness or something within their environment, being unable to express emotions can leave adults feeling angry, frustrated, and hopeless. The release they achieve through self-harm momentarily helps to alleviate their difficulty expressing emotions, however, it is not a long-lasting (or healthy) way of living. 

What Happens When People Self-Harm?

When people self-harm themselves, they put themselves at risk for experiencing a number of physical, mental, and emotional consequences. If the self-harm continues, consequences increase in intensity and further consequences can develop. 

When it comes to physical repercussions, adults who self-harm can experience a plethora of issues. For example, someone who cuts themselves regularly runs the risk of developing an infection. Many infections that come as a result of self-harm are not easily treated with antibacterial cream and bandages. Some people develop more serious infections, such as staph infections, which can be life-threatening. 

Mentally, when people self-harm, they are directly affecting their self-esteem and self-image. Their behaviors make it difficult for them to appreciate and value their own self-worth, which can lead to continual and repeated self-harming behaviors. Emotionally, the shame and guilt that surrounds self-harm in adults can serve as a vicious cycle that keeps these behaviors going. 

It is important to understand that self-harm is much more than just a few cuts and bruises. In more severe cases, people who self-harm can suffer injured nerves or tendons, limb loss, permanent scarring, multi-organ damage, and long-term pain resulting from broken bones. When self-harm continues, individuals become more likely to die accidentally as a result of their self-harm and even commit suicide. 

Self-Harm Treatment for Adults in Florida

Self-harm is an extremely painful behavioral challenge to experience. Now that we know the answer to, “what is self-harm abuse in adults?”, it is imperative to determine why it is occurring. It may be a mental health condition that is contributing to the self-harming behaviors, which requires its own treatment. In most cases, self-harm can be addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and/or mindfulness-based therapies.

At Neuroscience Research Institute, our team is both experienced and compassionate when it comes to treating self-harm. If you or someone you love is struggling with this behavioral issue, contact us right now by calling or visiting our website to learn more about our programming options.

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