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What are the Signs of Self-Harm in Someone with BPD?

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Self-harm BPDThe media has provided us with a woefully limited stereotypical image of someone who self-harms, conjuring images of scowling, thin teens, maybe clad in black with dyed hair.

Just like every other stereotype, while this image may apply to some who engage in self-harm, it doesn’t come close to encompassing the wide array of people who self-harm or, more importantly, the reasons people engage in self-harmful behaviors.

Self-harm is typically a sign of a much larger issue, and is often a symptom of a mental health disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The problem with the stereotype is that we may turn a blind eye to a friend, loved one, or co-worker who may be self-harming because they don’t look like the “typical” person who would self-harm.

Signs of Self-Harm

Self-harmful behaviors don’t discriminate. Anyone from a successful businesswoman to your teenager’s best friend may be engaging in self-harmful behaviors. But if you don’t recognize the signs of self-harm, you may never even notice, as most people who engage in self-injury go to great lengths to cover the evidence.

The signs of self-harm include the following:

  • Thin, almost cat-scratch like cuts
  • Unusual bruises or burns
  • The person regularly wears long sleeves or heavy clothing, even if it’s warm
  • The person seems depressed or anxious
  • The person becomes angry or defensive if asked about the bruises, burns, or cuts

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Why do People Self-Harm?

Self-harm is also known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), as those who engage in self-harm typically don’t intend to end their life. So why do they do it?

There are many reasons someone may self-harm:

  • Self-harm may be a coping mechanism, the pain being a controlled physical pain versus an uncontrollable emotional pain from a past trauma such as sexual abuse or childhood neglect.
  • Self-harm may distract someone from everyday stresses such as relationship problems, financial troubles, or a stressful work environment.
  • Self-harm may be an attempt to draw concern from others, or a cry for help.
  • Self-harm could even be a symptom of psychosis. The person may actually be hearing “voices” warning that if they don’t cut, bang their head against the wall, or engage in other self-harm, that something bad will happen.

Not everyone who self-harms suffers from psychosis, of course. Still, there is truly no safe amount of self-harm, so help should be sought.

Self-harm can, in fact, lead to irreparable physical damage. Ultimately, it can even lead to death from either cutting too deep or from a resulting infection.

There are other, healthier coping skills out there. There are even therapies, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), that can help you to stop your self-harmful behaviors.

If you or someone you love is engaging in self-harm, along with Borderline Personality Disorder or another mental health disorder, find a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) treatment center for women today to get the help you need to stop harming yourself and learn healthier ways to cope.


  1. I think this article about self-harm is really good. As a person who does this, I found a lot of what this article is saying is true. I’m glad it is put here for other people who do this, or their loved ones, to read.

  2. Rui Ribeiro

    I have the bad habit of chewing one or both sides of my tongue, as if it was a chewing gum, whenever I’m excited or feeling anxious. From time to time I get a continuous feel of low level pain in the affected áreas, that can keep for a few days. It’s a nuisance, but I just can’t stop doing it. Would that be considered a self-harm practice in the context of a BPD (other symptoms aside)? Thank you

  3. Interesting. Could other behaviours like anorexia arguably be interpreted in this context as a sort of more passive self-harm? Refusing to eat on the grounds that (perhaps) you don’t deserve food, and using it as a self-punishing controlling behaviour – a more passive form of cutting or burning? And bulimia, in this context, would be a deliberate and active form of self-harm. in the interest of disclosure i have to say in my case, it was a kind of self-imposed hunger strike, protest against the world for my not being the sort of person I wanted to be or having the sort of life I felt I should have. I also have to say self-image things were involved to – the feeling that if I lost the excess body fat I’d magically become a better person and get it back on track again. But it was also protest – shouting at the world “Don’t ignore me, get it right!”

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