When the body is the target—Representations of one's own body and bodily sensations in self-harm

a systematic review

Emily Hielscher*, Thomas J. Whitford, James G. Scott, Regine Zopf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Typically, we try to protect our own bodies and this is supported by internal representations that specify one's body identity, spatial parameters, and bodily sensations, but in self-harm the body becomes the target. First acts of self-harm are typically reported in adolescence. At this age, the body also becomes more salient to one's self-concept. It may be possible that disturbances in representations of one's own body and its sensations contribute to self-harm. Methods: To investigate these links, we conducted a systematic review critically examining the potential role of body representation and sensation disturbances in self-harm (non-suicidal or suicidal) in adolescents and young adults (12–25 years). Results: The search strategy identified 64 studies (275,183 participants) and overall, young people engaging in self-harm reported greater levels of body dissatisfaction, body disownership, and deficits in the experience and evaluation of bodily sensations compared to non-injuring control groups; however, there was subscale variability and gender differences. Conclusion: Our results emphasise the strong link between body representations and self-protection, as well as a need for investigating self-harm interventions that take body image and awareness into account.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-112
Number of pages28
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • body representations
  • body image
  • bodily sensations
  • self-injurious behavior
  • self-harm
  • suicide

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