Historically, self-harm was associated with physical pain such as excessive headbanging, cutting, burning or scratching to the point of drawing blood. But there’s a new form of self-harm on the rise in this digital age, and it’s becoming alarmingly more common. 

In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers surveyed students aged 12-17. They discovered that 6 percent have participated in digital self-harm activities, including posting something mean about themselves online anonymously. 

Why Are More Adolescents Posting Hateful Comments About Themselves Anonymously Online?   

In a study published in Deviant Behavior, researchers examined the association between bullying victimization and digital self-harm and the resulting negative emotions. The survey polled 10,000 middle and high school students and revealed that low self-esteem caused by bullying contributed to digital self-harm behaviors like posting hurtful comments about oneself on social media platforms. 

Findings suggest that bullying can deteriorate a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence to the point that they begin to inflict harm on themselves. But rather than hurt themselves physically, they create online personas as coping mechanisms and a way to regulate their emotions. And even when bullying by others has stopped, their distorted feelings compel them to continue the abuse on themselves–perhaps because they feel insignificant and unworthy of being released from the behavior. 

Is Digital Self-Harm Attention-Seeking Behavior–Or A Warning Sign Of Suicide? 

Because today’s adolescents have grown up around technology, online spaces have become their most familiar communication avenues. Therefore, posting a hurtful, malicious comment is as “real” to them as saying or hearing it face-to-face. 

However, self-harm does not always need to have a history of bullying. It can happen in people suffering from poor self-esteem, which escalates to aggression towards themselves. It’s possible that these individuals feel they can alleviate their pain by making critical comments in the guise of someone else. And the internet happens to be the most accessible platform for them to navigate through their self-hate yet avoid physical injury. 

Some researchers have provided insight and analysis of digital self-harm behavior, comparing its roots to traditional self-harm. For example, intense feelings of hatred for oneself or the hopes to gain attention are possible causes of self-harm behavior. 

But while self-cyberbullying may also be considered attention-seeking behavior, it may also happen to people with no intention for their actions ever to be discovered. Such was the alleged cyberbullying case of 15-year old Natalie Natividad from Hebbronville, TX. The 8th grader took her own life, and her family believed it was after she suffered months of online bullying. However, investigations concluded that Natalie had posted negative comments about herself. 

Therefore, whether the person self-harms to gain attention without the intention of suicide or it is a way to help regulate their feelings, it is still a cry for help that should not be ignored. 

About the Writer


Communicare offers multiple treatment options for co-occurring disorders (substance use disorders and mental health disorders).  Communicare’s Haven House is a residential treatment facility and is certified through the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.