Burning as self-harm is a form of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). It may be more common among young men.
Self-harm, also known as self-injury, is any act of harm to yourself that’s deliberate but without suicidal intent.
It can be physical, like cutting, burning, or scratching. It can include psychological tactics, such as berating, belittling, or demeaning yourself.
Deliberate injury isn’t the only factor in self-harm. It’s not the same as self-decorating with piercings or tattoos for aesthetics. Self-harm typically refers to a pattern of behavior that’s impulsive and used as an external coping method for internal distress.
Burning is a recognized behavior of self-harm. It can involve damaging your body with things like lighters, cigarettes, matches, or candles.
It’s not uncommon for burning to be done methodically, such as in the same pattern or in the same way every time.
As a caregiver, don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t notice a loved one was burning as self-harm.
It’s common to hide the signs of self-harm from others, such as using areas of the body that can be easily hidden. Shame and guilt often follow self-harm, which adds to the secrecy that surrounds the practice.
Signs of self-harm burning can include:
- visible burn marks or scars
- collecting lighters, matches, and other burn-producing objects
- refusing to wear anything other than long sleeves or pants despite hot weather
- frequent use of medical supplies and bandages
- having friends who have been known to self-harm
- avoiding friends and loved ones
- statements of hopelessness or low self-worth
- having engaged in a different form of NSSI before
- living with a mental health condition associated with self-harm, such as borderline personality disorder
Self-harm is closely tied to how well you regulate your emotions and thoughts. According to a 2017 systematic review, the goal of almost all NSSI behavior is finding relief from intrapersonal and interpersonal distress.
When you don’t have positive coping mechanisms in place, self-harm becomes a way to relieve negative, overwhelming feelings. It’s known as a maladaptive coping mechanism: something that provides temporary relief but long-term harm.
NSSI is used as a way to escape from your thoughts and feelings. For some people, it’s also a form of self-punishment.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy indicates self-harm acts as a “quick fix.” It offers an immediate opportunity to get away from internal pain by redirecting focus to external pain.
Examples of positive coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms that help relieve emotional distress without negative consequences are known as adaptive coping mechanisms.
- spiritual practices
- communicating with friends and family
- silver-lining thinking
Anyone can self-harm, but it’s a behavior seen most often in adolescents and young adults.
Cutting is the most reported form of self-harm. Men are more likely to engage in burning, banging, and hitting.
Adolescents and college students have the highest rates of NSSI, though it’s also seen in adults.
Recognizing that burning and other forms of NSSI are counterproductive behaviors is the first step toward recovery.
If you’ve burned yourself, immediately treat the wound. It can be tempting to hide the mark, but leaving a burn unattended could lead to infection.
Once you’ve treated the wound, focus on finding support. Chances are you’ve been dealing with some tough thoughts and feelings. Self-harm burning may have made them go away for a moment, but they haven’t truly been managed.
Talking with someone you trust can help you work through the negative things you’re dealing with and can set you on track for professional support.
It’s natural to feel uncomfortable talking with a parent or family member right away. If you need someone who understands but is confidential, you can text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
A mental health professional can help you learn what to do when self-harm urges arise. They can work with you to develop new coping mechanisms, and they can also explore any underlying factors that might contribute to NSSI.
Trauma, bullying, adverse childhood experiences, and underlying mental health conditions are all things that can contribute to maladaptive coping. Understanding your underlying reasons for self-harm can help you heal.
Everyone’s needs are different when it comes to self-harm treatment.
If burning has been a steppingstone to more severe self-injury, you may benefit from some time in a supervised care setting where you can focus on recovery in a safe environment.
Treatment usually blends psychotherapy approaches with medications. Common therapies used for NSSI include:
- family therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- dialectical behavioral therapy
- emotion regulation group therapy
- manual-assisted cognitive therapy
- dynamic deconstructive psychotherapy
- treatment for self-injurious behaviors
A doctor may prescribe medications, like antidepressants, to help regulate your mood and relieve some of the symptoms that lead to NSSI behaviors.
Burning as self-harm is a form of NSSI. It’s one of many physical injuries used to temporarily alleviate psychological distress. Over time, it can become an impulsive and ritualistic behavior.
It’s not easy to spot self-harm in others. Marks are usually hidden, and people often go to great lengths to make sure NSSI remains a secret.
If you’ve engaged in burning as self-harm, know you are not alone. Talking with someone you trust about it is the first step toward recovery. Help is always available, and you can learn healthier ways to cope.