Why do people intentionally hurt others

Self-harm: when (young) people "cut" themselves

Ouch! Most people avoid what hurts: When cutting onions, shaving and walking barefoot, they take care not to injure themselves. But there are also people who intentionally cut or scratch themselves, burn or burn their skin. This is called: self-harm or self-harming behavior (SVV). Young people are particularly affected.

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Word explanation (definition)

Self-injurious behavior (SVV)

One speaks of self-harm or self-harming behavior (in short: SVV) when a person is repeatedly and on purpose hurt yourself. SVV often occurs in adolescents during puberty - especially in young people with mental illnesses (e.g. depression, eating or anxiety disorders) or problems (e.g. low self-esteem). But there are also elderly people who injure themselves.

How do people injure themselves?

Affected people usually injure their arms, legs, chest and / or stomach. They cut themselves deep into the skin or into the flesh (with a razor blade or shard, for example), stub out cigarettes on their bodies, bite themselves, intentionally scald themselves with hot water or, for example, repeatedly hit their heads against the wall . The urge to hurt yourself grows stronger over time. Some people injure themselves on a daily basis.

It doesn't stop with superficial scratches. Sometimes the wounds are so big or deep that they need hospital treatment. Most affected people hide their wounds and scars, for example under long sleeves. Others deliberately show it openly.

Is self-harm a punishable offense?

Self-harm is an act of violence against yourself. It is not, however, punishable (the exception is self-mutilation with the aim of evading military service). People who harm themselves should not be forced into therapy. Children and young people are excluded.

Self-harm vs. suicide

People who harm themselves usually don't want to kill themselves. However, there are people who harm themselves to distract themselves from a death wish. Sometimes when people harm themselves, they inadvertently inflict such severe wounds that they die.

How often does SVV occur?

Within one year, 14 percent of young people in Germany intentionally injure themselves (= “one-year prevalence rate”. Prevalence is the frequency with which an illness occurs). One in four young people exhibits self-harming behavior at some point in their life; 4 percent of young people repeat the SIA. (Source and further information: to the information portal for mental health)


Why do people hurt themselves?

  • Emotional stress is often the cause of self-harm.
  • The (mostly young) people feel overwhelmed by their massive feelings. By scratching, they temporarily relieve pressure, anger or fear. Or: You cover up an injury to the soul with the physical pain.
  • If you feel completely empty and lost, you get injured in order to feel yourself again - even if only through the pain.
  • Some affected people harm themselves in order to punish themselves.
  • For some youngsters, scratching is a triumph: they can endure something that most others would not be able to endure.
  • Self-harm can release "happiness hormones" (endorphins). Many people who harm themselves cannot stop doing it. SVV can become an addiction.
  • Self-harm is usually also a cry for help.

Symbolic picture: It is mostly young people who injure themselves. The causes are manifold. Often there are heavy emotional stresses behind the "crack".

Did you know ...

(Flagellants) Flagellants

... were a movement in the Middle Ages. Its members whipped themselves. The name "flagellants" comes from the Latin word "flagellum", the scourge or whip. The goals of self-flagellation were spiritual exercise, penance, or religious excitement.

Auto-aggressive behavior

... is called violence that a person directs against himself: He or she acts aggressively against himself.


... is a legal term. It refers to people who deliberately injure themselves seriously to avoid conscription. This form of self-harm is severely punished, with imprisonment of up to 5 years. Attempting self-mutilation is also a criminal offense. Most of the time, people also lose their insurance coverage.


... is a common form of self-harm, for example with a razor blade, broken glass, needles, a carpet cutter or a pair of scissors. In colloquial language, “scoring”, “cutting” or “snipping” stand for self-harm in general.


... is considered indirect self-harm (just like taking drugs, anorexia or bulimia (eating-vomiting addiction, binge-eating). Why “indirect”? Because self-harm is not the goal, but an effect, for example of smoking.

5 questions, 5 facts

What not only parents should know about self-harm

Some typical examples: A young person ...

  • always wears long sleeves and pants, even when everyone else is walking around in swimwear,
  • Spends a noticeable amount of time in the bathroom (but obviously not washing his hair, putting on make-up or styling),
  • hides plasters, bandages, disinfectants and / or objects such as scissors, razor blades, broken glass, candles, etc. in his room,
  • has cuts on the arms or legs that are arranged according to a certain pattern,
  • cannot credibly explain his many badly healing cuts, burns or scratches.

It is difficult to get hold of a young person who is self-harming. Our tip:

  • Address young people who may be affected cautiously.
  • Don't blame yourself! Don't put pressure on!
  • Signal: I take you seriously. I want to understand you
  • Listen sensitively.
  • If the young person blocks the conversation and / or is further injured: Seek support from a counseling center at an early stage. Affected people often find it much easier to open up to professionals!

Body jewelry such as piercings or tattoos are not considered self-harm - even if they literally “get under your skin” and piercing or tattooing can be quite painful. However, there are people who have themselves tattooed, for example, in order to deal with very bad experiences (= trauma). For her, the completion of the tattoo can also mean: "I can draw a line."

From body decoration to art form: some artists deliberately injure themselves in performances or in action art. The wound or the blood become a means of expression.

In most cases, self-harm is not a suicide attempt. But some people who harm themselves have a desire to die. In any case, self-injurious behavior should be viewed as a cry for help.

Psychotherapy offers suitable treatment methods. With professional help, the person affected can find out, among other things, what is behind his urge to self-harm and how he can get rid of emotional stress in other ways. If necessary, the therapy can be supported by medication - for example antidepressants.

    • Do you cut yourself and need someone to talk to? Your child is hurting himself, how can you help? Here you can find information and contact points:

    • Help with self-harm

      Here you will find advice and help if you (or other people) are emotionally stressed and, for example, injure yourself.

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