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"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.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding self harm. In fiction, it is generally associated with the Goth and emo 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.
- 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.
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. 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.
- 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.
- 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 afore mentioned 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 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.
- In Runaways it is subtly implied that Nico, who needs to bleed before each use of her powers, also cuts for reasons unrelated to her magic. At one point, she mentions brushing her teeth until her gums bled in order to activate her powers, stating that she was "done with cutting".
- In Strangers in Paradise, Tambi Baker used to cut herself while in the employ of Darcy Parker.
- 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 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 Thirteen 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 Clean, Shaven the schizophrenic main character cuts into his own head and fingernail because he believes that there are transmitters in there.
- 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.
- Werewolves in Harry Potter will attack themselves out of frustration while transformed if there are no humans around to attack.
- 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 young adult books.
- 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.
- 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 two 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 (Gracie), a female-to-male transgendered teen, resorts to burning after his mother tries to force him to live as a girl.
- ER: In one episode, a self harmer is treated at their clinic.
- Intervention has featured self-injurers.
- Law and 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.
- 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"
- 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.
- 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.
- Chidori of Persona3 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.