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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 3, Issue 2, Pages 77-85

Varieties of Pathological Self-Mutilation

Armando R. Favazza1 and Richard J. Rosenthal2

1Department of Psychiatry, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 54201, USA
2Department of Psychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90029, USA

Copyright © 1990 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Pathological self-mutilation appears as a non-specific symptom as well as a specific syndrome. Since psychotic persons may commit horrifying acts, such as enucleation of an eye or amputation of a body part, identification of high risk patients is crucial. Stereotypical self-mutilation, such as head banging and biting off of fingertips, is associated with mental retardation and with the syndromes of Lesch-Nyhan, deLange, and Tourette. This type of self-mutilation is the focus of biological research or endorphins and on dopamine receptors. Skin cutting and burning, the most common type of self-mutilation, is often associated with personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and multiple personality disorder. When cutting and burning become established as responses to disturbing psychological symptoms on environmental events, a specific Axis I impulse disorder known as Repetitive Self Mutilation may be diagnosed. Patients with this newly identified syndrome may alternate their direct acts of self-mutilation with eating disorders and episodic alcoholism.