It may seem like a funny question, but not everyone knows if what they do is self-harm. Some things like pulling out individual hair or chewing on your fingers until they bleed might just seem like a ‘bad habit’, but it could actually be more.
So some good questions to ask yourself are:
1. Do you deliberately cause physical harm to yourself to the extent of causing tissue damage (breaking the skin, bruising, pain, leaving marks that last for more than an hour)?
2. Do you cause this harm to yourself as a way of dealing with unpleasant or overwhelming emotions, thoughts, or situations (including dissociation)?
3. If your self-harm is not compulsive, do you often think about SI even when you're relatively calm and not doing it at the moment?
If you answer #1 and #2 yes, you are a self-injurer. If you answer #3 yes, you are most likely a repetitive self-injurer. The way you choose to hurt yourself could be cutting, hitting, burning, scratching, skin-picking, banging your head, breaking bones, not letting wounds heal, and so on. You might do several of these or something entirely different. How you injure yourself isn't as important as recognizing that you do and what it means in your life. [source]
Something that I would also pay attention to.
Do you make excuses or lie about the behavior when asked about it? Does something feel normal or okay when you’re doing it, but having to explain it to someone feel wrong?
I know what I do/did is self-injury. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve always been honest about it. I’m almost always honest about it with people that know me, but I don’t always feel it’s appropriate or necessary (or frankly, any of their damn business) to explain to strangers so I make shit up. It’s easy to say I got scratched by the cat. I know this is typical of a lot of people. My favorite responses are, “Oh, the trials of a misspent you,” or “Angry puppy”. If you know where either of those references are from, you get bonus points. When I was younger I was much less careful or uniform about my cutting so I would have my forearms covered. I often wore long sleeves to cover it up but if someone noticed I’d blame it on a skateboarding wipeout on gravel or something similar. I got creative. But if you’re not sure if what you do is self-harm, and you find yourself explaining away your behavior or injuries as something else, ask yourself why. Do you feel shame about it? Are you afraid people won’t understand? Are you even able to pinpoint the emotional reasons you have for doing what you do?
If any of these questions are setting off red flags in your mind, you may need to take a deeper look at the intentions behind your behaviors.