"All the little things that might have been annoying me suddenly seem so trivial because I'm concentrating on the pain. I'm not a person who can scream and shout so this is my only outlet. It's all done very logically."
Self harm (SH), also termed self injury (SI), is the act or acts of deliberately hurting oneself. Methods of doing so include, but are not limited to cutting, scratching, burning, biting, and banging or hitting body-parts. Eating disorders are also considered to exist on the self-harm spectrum, as are some high-risk unsafe sexual practices (specifically anything related to Erotic Asphyxiation
, weapons play with "live" weapons such as sharp knives or loaded firearms, and/or intentionally trying to become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.)
There is a lot of stigma surrounding self harm. In fiction, it is generally associated with the goth
subcultures, and often thought that self-injurers are "just doing it for attention". Cutting is by far the most represented form of SI in fiction, though other forms are seen.
In reality, however, there are many reasons for self harm, and it is not confined to (or encouraged by) any particular subcultures. It is usually a sign that someone is really hurting inside or suffering from mental illness; self-harm is associated with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and borderline personality disorder
(BPD is, in fact, the only illness which for which the DSM lists self-harm as a criterion.) Contrary to the belief that they are seeking attention, many self-injurers will go to great lengths to hide their injuries
Reasons for self-injury include, but are not limited to:
- Relief of emotional pain: many people who self-harm suffer from disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder which cause intense emotional ups or downs. Self-harm can provide temporary relief from these emotions.
- To generate feelings: On the other end of the spectrum, some people who self-harm have feelings of numbness or dissociation, and the only way that they can feel anything at all is by hurting themselves.
- Control: Often in addition to one or both of the above, people may self-harm because the pain it generates is a the only feeling that they are able to control.
- Self punishment: some people who self-harm actively loathe themselves and feel like they deserve to be hurt.
- Sexual gratification via pain: Some people obtain sexual gratification via acts that are sufficiently extreme enough to cross over from "harmless" (e.g. getting insulted or spanked) to Self Harm (e.g. Erotic Asphyxiation or knife play) whether with a partner or alone.
- To communicate to others: Although it's much less frequent than is usually portrayed, some people self-harm because they don't know how to effectively communicate to others. It doesn't make them manipulative or attention-seeking, it just means that they don't know of better ways to communicate.
- Though it's not as common as the others, some simply do it as a quick and simple way to feel good for a short amount of time.
- Religion or ritual: Though it's not as common as the other reasons in modern times, some people self-harm or subject themselves to harm from someone else as a result of religious belief or as a ritual act. In past times, it was far more common, with a distinct overlap between it and the above-mentioned reasons of self-punishment or sexual gratification.
It should be noted that not all people who self-harm are suicidal
, though there is an increased risk of suicide in those who do, especially accidental suicide if the person truly does not care about living or dying, or has no education or interest in harm reduction/is engaging in specifically risky practices. However in media, self-harm frequently signifies that a character is suicidal.
For self-harming tropers who would like to seek help, or for tropers hoping to find help for a loved one, please know that you are not alone
. If a partner/institution/religious group pushes you to engage in Self Harm
for any reason or promotes self-harming behavior, you are likely a victim of Abuse
and you are also not alone.
is another reason why characters might deliberately injure themselves, as is any situation when they're faced with a Life or Limb Decision
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Anime and Manga
- The main character of Life by Keiko Suenobu begins cutting after her best friend turns on her. In the television adaptation, this is replaced by an Important Haircut.
- Very early in One Piece, during the Arlong arc, Arlongs ally, corrupt marine officer Nezumi, "confiscates" the ransom money that Nami spent the last 8 years collecting. Arlong tells her that he didn't break their deal and the villagers decide that she has fought enough, and goes to fight him, which would lead to their certain deaths. Distraught and hopeless, Nami grabs a knife and starts violently defacing the Arlong tattoo on her arm, not stopping until Luffy grabs her hand.
- A contractor in Darker Than Black has to cut himself in order to activate his powers.
- In The World God Only Knows, Lune is stabbing herself to relieve the frustration of being unable to harm humans.
- While she may or may not have tried to speed the process by cutting her wrists, Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion was implied to have taken a more indirect route by starving herself. She's found naked in a bathtub with her clothes folded neatly (a hallmark of people committing suicide) and is too weak to avoid being taken into custody when Section 2 agents find her.
- Additionally, one early draft of episode 24 would've shown Kaworu with scars on his wrists and neck, with the implications that they were from suicide attempts. This was apparently cut in the final draft.
- In InuYasha, there is a scene where Naraku, frustrated about the feelings of jealousy and unrequited love for Kikyo (which he blames on the vestiges of his humanity, but are later revealed to be very much his own), rips the skin of his back (where he has a scar that marks him as part-human) with a sword. With a Healing Factor like his, the resulting wound is like a shallow papercut to him, but the scene implies that he has been doing it over and over again and he has implied that he tried even more drastic methods... Since he already knew that it wouldn't work, one can assume that he does it entirely because of the aforementioned feelings.
- In Crossbone Gundam, protagonist Tobia is being held captive by someone who thinks Newtypes have evolved beyond the concerns of Muggles and is trying to convince him to not care about the war going on right outside. Tobia's Shut Up, Hannibal! is to steal a knife from a nearby guard, cut his arm, and say (paraphrased) "Newtypes and Oldtypes bleed the same blood; we aren't superior, just different."
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Rena Ryuuguu did this out of paranoia (and likely depression, given her Stepford Smiler tendencies) in her backstory.
- In Narutaru, Akira Sakura does this - hardly surprising considering how dark the series is.
- Gaara of Naruto attempted to slash his own wrists as a child, but was blocked by his own sand barrier. This is after a classic example of a Dark and Troubled Past, since while he had never actually been injured due to said sand barrier and was only half-halfheartedly trying out of curiosity, the fact that a child would casually try something like that is still rather indicative of Gaara's state of mind.
- Hidan takes this Up to Eleven by having to impale himself with sharp objects in order to sacrifice people for his religious ceremonies. After linking his body to someone else through ingesting some of their blood, wounding his immortal body allows him to transfer said damage to his victim.
- The summoning technique in general requires the summoner to offer some blood before they can proceed to summon their creatures.
- At several points in the Berserk manga, Griffith claws at his arms deeply enough to bleed, usually due to going through some bad things mentally.
- In Attack on Titan, this is the primary method that Titan Shifters use to activate their transformation, since injury (and a clear goal) are required. Eren has a tendency to bite his hand, which others note is actually harder than it looks.
- A Cruel God Reigns: Around a year after Sandra and Greg's deaths, Jeremy begins slamming his head and body into walls and door frames when he becomes too distressed or during moments of confusion.
- One of the many signs of mental instability shown by Dilandau in Vision of Escaflowne is how he picks at the cut on his face that Van gave him early in the series and reopens it while brooding.
- In Strangers in Paradise, Tambi Baker used to cut herself while in the employ of Darcy Parker.
- In The Sandman, Despair habitually tears her skin with the hooked ring she wears. At one point she cut her eyeball open, which was mercifully only narrated, not shown. It doesn't leave permanent marks, presumably because she's as immortal as the rest of the Endless.
- X-23 habitually cuts herself on the wrists and forearms with her claws, and is first shown engaging in this behavior after being forced to kill her sensei as a test of the trigger scent. Laura can fall under all of the reasons for cutting noted above, and one issue of her solo series suggests she may even be inflicting fatal injuries on herself: An employee at a hotel where she was staying with Gambit reported to his manager that it appeared as if someone attempted to commit suicide in a bathroom she just left. Her Healing Factor prevents her from dying from her wounds, however, and completely heals the resulting scars.
- In the first arc of Runaways, Nico uses a pocket knife to cut her arm, whenever she has to summon the Staff of One (which only appears when she bleeds). Though Nico is a Perky Goth though, she actually is not normally a cutter. In fact, after the first arc is over, she can't bring herself to use the pocket knife and instead resorts to more imaginative ways to bleed (including making use of that time of the month).
- In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Amadeus Arkham's patient, serial killer Martin "Mad Dog" Hawkins, states that he cuts his arms with a razor "[j]ust to feel. Just to feel something."
- This trope is often used in hurt/comfort fan fics
- Some of the most stereotypical portrayals of self-harm come from bad fanfiction, perhaps most notably My Immortal, where self-injury (specifically cutting) is used as an indication of "goffikness", with none of the emotional nuances characteristic of real SI attached.
- In chapter 6 of A Kingdom Divided, Rainbow Dash cuts herself to stop the hallucinations.
- In Gensokyo 20 XX, an age-regressed Reimu is prone to this, being that she is mentally detached from any sort of pain stimuli that would make her stop.
- In 28 Days, there is a scene where Andrea, Gwen's roommate at rehab, is caught self-injuring by Gwen.
- In Asylum, Ivy confesses to Madison that she is a self-injurer.
- Augusta Gone explicitly shows a scene of cutting while the character Augusta is at a camp for "problem" teens.
- Boys Don't Cry
- In The Abyss, self-harm is one of the signs of Lt. Coffey's descent into insanity.
- The main character of 13 is a cutter.
- In the film of Girl, Interrupted, Daisy is a cutter, something that is not a part of her character in the novel.
- In a deleted scene, Lisa is shown self-harming, by burning her cigarettes on her forearm (in the shape of a cat), which is why she is seen wearing a bandage on it.
- In Clean, Shaven the schizophrenic main character cuts into his own head and fingernail because he believes that there are transmitters in there.
- Maggie Gylenhaal's character in Secretary.
- The protagonist in My First Mister.
- One of the characters in the 80s horror film Bad Dreams. "I just make a little hole, and it all goes away."
- Amanda in the Saw franchise, previously a drug addict, started self-harming (via cutting) which is what lands her in another trap in Saw 2 (actually, that was part of the plan but she did self-harm). She is shown cutting her legs in Saw 3, laying out all the tools before she starts (in an attempt to gain control over her situation), and later tightly grips a knife until she begins to bleed (because she's starting to lose control - in comparison to the previous scenes in the film).
- In Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl there is a school club devoted to this.
- Julie in Three Colors: Blue starts harming herself after the deaths of her husband and child, most notably in a sequence where she deliberately drags her fist along a jagged stone wall.
- Discussed in ''High Fidelity." After Laura's father dies, she has sex with Rob and they get back together. She says it's either that or stick her hand in the fire.
- In X2: X-Men United, this is implicitly where all Nightcrawler's scars came from.
- In X-Men: The Last Stand, when his wings first appear, Angel tries to scrape them off with files and graters.
- In Jodi Picoult's Handle with Care, Amelia, the older daughter of the main character, begins cutting (in addition to developing bulimia), to deal with her feelings of neglect and loneliness.
- One scene in Speak features Melinda scratching herself with a paperclip unil she bleeds.
- Julia Hoban's novel Willow is about a cutter.
- Perhaps the best-known example in YA fiction is Patricia McCormick's Cut, about a cutter.
- In Girl, Interrupted, Susanna bites her hands due to feelings of depersonalization. This is omitted from the film.
- In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Oskar frequently bruises himself when he is upset.
- Harry Potter
- Werewolves will attack themselves out of frustration while transformed if there are no humans around to attack.
- House-elves are compelled to physically punish themselves if they disobey their masters. "Bad Dobby!"
- Ann from the Gemma Doyle trilogy is not a fan of herself. This is to the point of self-harm.
- Shows up a lot in Ellen Hopkins's young adult books.
- Steven Levenkron's The Luckiest Girl in the World is about this trope. The author also wrote a non-fiction book on the subject.
- Lisa engages this during one scene in Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld.
- Hayleigh from Fat does this, but it's to fake her periods.
- In Piers Anthony's Mode series, the main character is introduced sneaking off to the bathroom to cut herself again, keeping her scarred wrists hidden by fashionable bands. She also exploits her 'habit' by setting a challenge to see who can bleed the most, her opponent is not willing to cut himself at all, so she wins.
- Maximum Ride: School's Out - Forever has a couple of scenes where Ari bites his arm to make himself feel better about his daddy issues (among other issues).
- Tahiri does this for a few books in the late New Jedi Order. It's eventually revealed that this is her repressed Yuuzhan Vong personality, Riina, trying to assert herself (the Vong practice ritual scarring- and at high level, other forms of Body Horror- as a status symbol and religious rite). After pulling a Split Personality Merge, Tahiri stops having the impulse, though she remains Vong enough inside that she won't let anyone remove the scars.
- ''Shadows on the Moon The heroine turns to cutting to deal with the stress of survivor's guilt.
- Serena d'Angelus, an artist in Fulgrim, cuts herself to deal with her frustrations. After the corruption of Slaanesh infects the remembrancers that went to Laeran, her self-mutilation gets worse and then she discovers that mixing blood with her paints makes the shades that she cannot replicate normally.
- 7th Heaven: In one episode, Mary catches Nicole (a new friend of her sister's) self harming in her bathroom. Mary tells Eric (her father), who then tells Nicole's father. Eric gives him a card and a number to call so they can get help for Nicole. Nicole is then Put on a Bus.
- Beverly Hills 90210: In one episode, Donna finds her assistant cutting herself, after suspecting it. She tries to help her, eventually persuading her to get therapy.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- After discovering that she isn't a real person, Dawn is discovered with a knife in one hand and a large gash on the other arm. She then asks "Is this blood?", suggesting that the incident was an attempt to see if she was human.
- Faith is a bit of an atypical variant, as she's harming her body while her mind isn't actually occupying it. (As such, this could be argued not to be harming "herself" per se. That said, all of the self-loathing and rage of a self-harmer is present as she lays into her Buffy-occupied body.)
- Criminal Minds: On a campus where the team has been investigating a spate of murders, one of the girls there is shown cutting and deliberately trying to get herself killed by the murderer (like a suicide attempt).
- Degrassi The Next Generation has had three self-injurers. The first was Ellie, who began cutting herself after her father leaves and her mother started drinking again. Eventually, Paige noticed and convinced Ellie to see the school guidance counselor. She's implied to have stopped cutting at some point, although she says that she'll always be a cutter, even if she never does it again.
- Later, Adam, a transgender boy, resorts to burning after his mother tries to force him to live as a girl.
- Campbell cuts himself with an ice skate and jumps off a ledge and breaks his arm.
- ER: In one episode, a self harmer is treated at their clinic.
- Intervention has featured self-injurers.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent: During one case, the daughter of a suspect is a cutter.
- Lie to Me: Megan from "The Royal We" reveals cuts on her thigh to Dr. Lightman.
- The Real World: In the Cancun season, Ayiiia is caught self harming in the bathroom and later she cuts herself on the deck.
- Rome: Octavia is seen cutting herself in her tent and later her sleeves are pulled up to show the marks.
- Star Trek: Voyager: A crew member enacts dangerous behavior and self harming.
- The Bad Girls Club: Zara cuts herself after getting into a fight with the rest of the members of the group.
- The L Word; In one episode, Jenny is found on the bathroom floor cutting her legs by her roommate Shane.
- One of the students in Higher Ground, Juliette, is a cutter.
- Later on in Heroes, after Sylar has gained the power of shapeshifting, he ends up having a Shapeshifter Identity Crisis and at one point carves his name into his arm. It heals away, an extra bit of symbolism, but it still shows that he's struggling with this new power.
- Connor in The LA Complex deliberately crashed his car, poured boiling water over his arm and set his house on fire.
- Played with in Jekyll; Hyde will often do things that hurt him, but they usually hurt Jackman more (and in any case he has an extremely high threshold for pain). In his first episode, he intimidates someone by slowly stubbing out a cigarette on his own palm, commenting "It'll hurt more tomorrow" (when Jackman will be back in control), and at a bar deliberately orders something that's "really bad for hangovers".
- In the penultimate Season 2 episode of Shameless U.S., Monica, the Gallagher matriarch (in name, not in practice mind you), is shown with her slit wrists on the floor during the Thanksgiving dinner. She is bipolar, and had not been taking her medication for some time prior to the incident.
- In season 4, Debbie Gallagher self-harms after a complicated breakup with her boyfriend.
- Community has this on one episode, when Jeff admits to cutting himself in 7th grade to fake appendicitis, just so someone would care about him He still has the scar, 22 years later
- Kyo of Dir En Grey regularly cuts himself onstage with various implements (most infamously a razor at the Wacken 2009 performance), fishhooks his mouth, and otherwise self-harms onstage. Generally he limits this to his performances outside of Japan, but once did it in Japan - at a memorial show for hide along with miming choking himself.
- hide was himself a self-harmer, via binge-purge bulimia, and may well have died in an act of autoerotic asphyxiation combining fetish and self-harm to accidentally die.
- Nine Inch Nails' song Hurt (which was memorably Covered Up by Johnny Cash) appears to be about the disassociation type, opening with the lines "I hurt myself today/to see if I still feel/I focus on the pain/the only thing that's real"
- Ana's Song by Silverchair is about anorexia.
- Several songs by punk-rock band The Used are about self-injury. Their second album, In Love and Death, is particularly preoccupied with it, perhaps due to Creator Breakdown, as much of the album was written in response to the death of lead singer Bert McCracken's fiancee.
- Strawberry Gashes by Jack Off Jill; uses 'strawberry gashes' to refer to the marks from cutting.
- Bleed Like Me by Garbage contains a vignette about Doodle, who cuts herself. The band's lead singer, Shirley Manson, has talked about her own self-harm.
- Cut by Plumb is quite obviously about this; it talks about the relief that can be gained by self harm.
- The Dresden Dolls' song Bad Habit is about cutting too, with lyrics like "Happiness is just a gash away".
- KMFDM's "Never Say Never" is either about this or a drug addiction.
- There are numerous references to self-harm in the Manic Street Preachers' music (not surprising, given former songwriter Richey Edwards was a self-harmer; see Real Life below). The narrator of Yes feels that he can't scream, so he resorts to hurting himself to get the pain out. In Die In The Summertime the narrator reminisces about about a time before he started hurting himself, without "ruining lines".
- The Evanescence song Tourniquet is very suggestive of a struggle with cutting, leading to accidental or intentional suicide necessitating the titular tourniquet. (The opening line: "I tried to kill the pain, but only brought more. I lay dying, and I'm pouring crimson regret and betrayal.")
- Self-Inflicted by Katy Perry
- Dead of Mayhem used to include Self Harm in live shows.
- "Accidents with Scalpels" by Fockewolf.
- The title character in Eminem's "Stan" mentions this: "Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds, it's like adrenaline, the pain is such a sudden rush for me".
- "Screenager" by Muse
- "Blood and Fire" by the Indigo Girls.
- Hero by Violet UK references self-harm in a way that is very emotional for an anime theme song.
- Dialled up to about fourteen by Malfeas in Exalted, who - being a Genius Loci packed with Malevolent Architecture - self-harms by slamming shells together as a manifestation of his cosmic bipolar disorder stemming from his defeat in the Primordial War, mixing reasons one and four above. The Abyssals are also portrayed this way occasionally, but usually they don't need to bother - if they're trying to be good people, their own Exaltations go out of their way to injure them, so self-harm is basically a waste of time.
: Funny thing: To the extent that the setting has anyone who is an emo cutter, it is actually Malfeas. However, he'll never get called on it, because he sulks while listening to Megadeth
and he does his cutting with a chainsaw
- Orlanda Elliot, one of the sample characters in Scion, is a cutter. After becoming a Scion, the cuts actually did something useful (shedding her own blood gives her Legend), giving her no reason to stop. The reasons amount to 1, 3, and 4 in the description.
- Quite possibly the only example of this trope Played for Laughs occurs in Little Shop of Horrors. Seymour discovers that his strange and unusual plant, Audrey II, eats blood when he accidentally pricks his finger on some roses. As a result, he feeds Audrey II by pricking his fingers and letting the plant literally suck him dry. This works out fine until Audrey II gets too big for Seymour's blood alone to satisfy it...
- Chidori of Persona 3 is eventually discovered to do this.
- Simon from Cry of Fear has several gashes on his left wrist, which he had apparently cut prior to the game's start. They are visible when he injects himself with morphine.
- Fallout: New Vegas has the schizophrenic Nightkin Dog of the Dead Money DLC. In an attempt to subdue his Split Personality, he has taken to physically scarring himself heavily and even attaching a bear trap to his fist to shut out the voice.
- Neverending Nightmares has you playing a character with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, amongst other problems, exploring a series of nightmares. The nightmares usually end with him, seemingly for no reason, harming himself in some horrible way, ranging from cutting a deep, wide gash in his stomach with a knife to doing unspeakably gory things to his own arms.
- In Ultra Fast Pony, Rarity is a huge masochist and enjoys pain. She hurts herself often, purely for fun.
[Rarity is in the midst of a Heroic BSOD.] Twilight:
We have to do something, guys. If she gets too depressed, she might start hurting herself. Fluttershy:
But she does that anyway. Twilight:
Oh, yeah. Rarity, you're not hurting yourself in there, are you? Rarity:
Do I sound
like I'm in a good mood?
- Saha of RasputinCatamite constantly cuts into his arms and wrists with a small blade, for no apparent reason.
- Faen of Drowtales is shown to have developed this behavior after the 15 year timeskip, and digs her fingernails into her back until she bleeds, apparently due to anxiety. She's seen picking at a cut on her hand a page earlier, and Ariel's comments imply that this isn't the first time it's happened. Sadly not surprising considering that Faen is already a Nervous Wreck due to her empathy.
- Grey is... : Black cuts himself the night after he remembers who White is while thinking about Ameers death, White knows and the next day calmly cleans and redresses the wound. White later says that he doesn't get it and asks if it's a new game he's playing, implying that Black didn't self harm before White left.
- During Gamzee's Freak Out in Homestuck, he slices himself across the face with Nepeta's claws for unclear reasons. Word of God says it was because joyful self-mutilation is Squicky (and therefore hilarious).
- Played for Dark Comedy in Penny and Aggie. Aggie, regretful over having urged Duane to ask out Michelle (forgetting that she's in recovery from an eating disorder and other issues), pictures a cartoonishly stupid version of herself shoving Duane at Michelle, who's staring at her wrist and thinking of a razor blade.
- Meg of Family Guy is sometimes depicted as fragile and disturbed and as a way to solve her problems she stated to her mom that she cuts herself. In another episode when Connie (who always bullies Meg) asked Meg to help her become popular again after Chris became popular Meg told her off and showed her the scars on her arm that she made from cutting herself as a result of Connie's bullying.
- Quagmire marries Joan (a Yandere) in the episode "I Take Thee Quagmire". Peter convinces him to get a divorce using champagne and Lois's breasts, and when he tries to broach the subject she threatens to cut herself with a kitchen knife.
- Toot on Drawn Together giggles as she tells us she cuts herself to dull the pain.
- Uncle in season 4 of Jackie Chan Adventures hits himself with his own two-finger slap, blaming himself for getting Tohru captured by Ikazuki.
- Lemongrab of Adventure Time seems to have a habit of jumping out of high windows when he's in distress.
- Amy Winehouse admitted to being a cutter, though she spoke little about it publicly. The following exchange is from a 2007 Rolling Stone article:
- "I point to my left forearm and say, "I couldn't help but notice the scars. How old were you when you started doing that?" She looks at me, surprised, but doesn't have a ready-made answer, so I continue: "I mean, the cutting." Her muscles seem to tighten, and she avoids eye contact as she replies, "Um, that's really old. Really old. Just from a bad time, I suppose. "And then, stammering, "D-d-desperate times."
- Kago Ai, after being fired from Hello! Project by Up-Front Agency for being photographed smoking having already being suspended for it a year earlier, suffered from severe depression and started cutting herself. She has even admitted to having suicidal thoughts. She has since recovered, in addition to making a comeback as a musician and actress. Unfortunately as of September 2011, Kago Ai has once again attempted to slit her wrists and has been put on suicide watch.
- Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers had a history of self-harm. The most notorious incident was when Edwards, getting frustrated trying to convince a reporter from NME that the band were for real, eventually pulled out a razor and carved "4 REAL" into his arm. A photograph of his stitched up arm appeared on the cover of the magazine.
- self-injury.net maintains a list of celebrities who have admitted to hurting themselves.