Photo by Kellie Aguilar

He is 38 years old, handsome and successful. His career of a highly skilled Criminal Justice Training Specialist has brought him among the top professionals of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. We will call him Stephen from Richmond. The loyal husband of Emma and the wonderful father of Adam is a son of rich parents and grandson of prominent grandparents. However, behind the portrait of this amazing native of Virginia and devoted American with long list of social activities, there is one secret. Stephen suffers from self-cannibalism, in other words, he could eat himself up to death.

There are not so many evidences of self-cannibalism but there are people who could recognize some elements of this disorder in their daily lives. It usually starts with self-mutilation but that does not mean that self-cannibalism or auto vampirism will always follow. According to medical literature: „Self-cannibalism is a specific form of self-mutilation that means practice of eating own flesh and drinking own blood. Self-mutilation is a general term for a variety of forms of intentional self-harm without the wish to die. “Some doctors will confirm that each person has faced up with own type of self-cannibalism. We should just think of all of those people who bite their fingernails or chew their dead cells from the tongue. That is not addressed as a self-cannibalism and it is socially acceptable or at least, it is not condemned.

Nevertheless, Stephen’s story illustrates the pain of loneliness, the embarrassment of being strange, and the tragedy of being exposed as a monster. He knows very well what does it mean being addicted on biting own meat and to feeling own blood on the lips. Every day after work, when Emma and Adam are away, Stephen sneaks into the bathroom and hurt his legs and hands, those parts that are not visible. Then, he provokes Rottweiler Max and let the dog’s teeth find a comfort in his traumatized skin. Since he is not intimate with his wife, she does not see the reality behind the wounds on her husband’s skin. For Emma is enough to see that Stephen keep bringing the money for her needs and everything else is not so interesting. The sad emptiness between them makes the Stephen’s problem deeper and bigger.

The issue of self-cannibalism is thus directly related to the psychological background. There are experts who claim that self-cannibalism or autophagia, as it is also known, could be applied on people who already have the border personality’s complex. What does it mean? It could be that patients with schizophrenia or bipolar depression are more vulnerable to be targeted by the initial symptoms of self-mutilation. The Impulse-Control Disorders is one combination of sadistic and masochistic drives that makes someone simply go crazy and striving to hurt him/herself. This could be compared with drug addiction but in this case, it is addiction for self-hurting. After the act is committed, the person finds relief, mixed with quilt, pain and embarrassment. They cannot resist feeling the pain, to have their own skin and blood in mouth in spite of fact they are aware that outside their box, they would be considered as beasts.

Photo by Kellie Aguilar

There is a voluntary and forced self-cannibalism. The first comes from the dark corners of the human beings affected with this syndrome of eating themselves. They are the slaves of their own lunacy that cannot be cured easily. The second is linked to the torture and sadistic abuse of victims by serial or mass killers. The typical example is the famous Thomas Harris’ novel, “Hannibal.” Dr. Lector did not hesitate to punish drugged pedophile, Mason Verger, eating his own face. This kind of involuntary self-cannibalism is not only the fictional project but also a historical evidence. Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, famous serial killer has also forced her servants to eat their own skin, so she could have fun. During the Spanish colonial period, the colonizers pushed indigenous people to eat their own testicles in the 1500s. Not to mention the weird practice in Sudan and the Sudanese youth that was extorted to eat their own ears in 1998. Bernd Jurgen Brande was a German man who accepted to be eaten by his lover, Armin Meiwes, in 2001. The couple has eaten the Bernd’s penis together and then Armin killed, ate Bernd and shocked the whole Germany and the whole world as the most ridicules modern cannibal:” Meiwes became the first person in Germany to be charged with murder for sexual satisfaction, or ‘love cannibalism’” . They were both the part of the sickness since Bernd had a wish to be eaten alive and that thing had turned him sexually. At the end of the day, his partner said for media that Bernd’s flesh tasted like a pork meat, but a bit stronger. He was jailed for 8 years and in the meantime, he became vegetarian.

We should also mention odd people that have eccentric disorders and like to be remember as such. One of them is Chilean-born artist Marco Evaristti, who organized a dinner for best friends and served them the meatball dish made from his liposuction rest.

The human madness is never-ending. Some of the famous murderers have also experienced the self-cannibalism touch. Andre Thomas was only 25 years old when he ate his own eye in 2009.

The people with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome or with the urgent need to bite themselves or even eat are those that have serious mental problems. Some of them are not defined yet but the drama of their disorders is something that will shape future social dimensions and the perspective of real taboos.

How we will make difference between bizarre behavior and factual mental sickness? Each bizarre behavior is an introduction into the serial soul problems. If it is not treated on time and somehow cured, it is getting worse. This disorder is not only applicable on humans, but on animals too. Some rats and snakes developed this disfigured behavior and implemented on their standard.

Stephen has faced up with the pleasure of eating his own skin when he was 15. His busy parents have never had time to dig into the problem and to start eventually the recovery of their son. Now, he is enough old to know he cannot be cured. It is not only scar on his skin; it is a scar on his heart. He was forgotten and he is still forgotten, as many of them who secretly eat themselves, mentally and physically. Their demons are always alive.






  1. Sarah’s exceedingly-interesting article brought to mind recent literary efforts that include references to self-cannibalism. For example, ‘Survivor Type’ (1982), by Stephen King: it is written as the diary of a disgraced surgeon, who, while attempting to smuggle a large amount of heroin on a cruise ship, finds himself marooned on a tiny island in The Pacific Ocean with very limited supplies and no food. A self-proclaimed ‘survivor type’, his diary entries documenting his day-to-day activities become more and more disjointed and raving, revealing his slow mental decay and eventual insanity caused by starvation, isolation and drug use.

    Determined to hold out for rescue, he goes to horrifying lengths to survive. After breaking his ankle while attempting to signal an airplane, he amputates his foot, then realizes he has to eat it to survive. He continues to amputate his own limbs to use as a food source, ingesting the heroin as a crude anesthetic during the operations. His last few diary entries, barely comprehensible, indicate that he has cut off and eaten everything below his waist, as well as his ears, and drools uncontrollably as he ponders which body part to consume next. The diary entries end when he cuts off his left hand to eat.

    The short story ‘The Savage Mouth’ by Japanese science fiction writer Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011) deals with self-cannibalism.

    In the Japanese horror movie Naked Blood (1996), a woman eats herself with a knife and fork, after taking pain dulling drugs. According to Allmovie, ‘it contains one of the most appalling scenes in Japanese horror’.

    Autophagia (i.e. eating one’s own body) is not classified as a mental disorder or a symptom of a mental disorder in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the diagnostic manual used in The United States of America. However, Autophagia could be classified under the DSM’s Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified. Impulse-Control Disorders involve failing to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others. The majority of individuals affected by this disorder will often feel a sense of tension or arousal before committing the act, and then experience pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of committing the act. Once the act has been completed, the individual may or may not feel regret, self-reproach, or guilt.

    The human psyche is extremely diverse and only partially comprehended by scientists/medical professional. Gradually, such entities as autophagia might be better understood…


  2. I knew about cannibalim, but did not know about self-cannibalism. So, thanks to you, Sarah, I am learning new things !

    The stories you have covered, herein, about self-cannibalism are very educational, yet very disturbing. Never could I have ever thought that people could that to themselves or to one another, such as in the case of the German couple ! One would think that the one who died knew he would, yet decided to go ahead with it anyway !

    It is clear that it is a mental illness. It is sad that there is no cure for it. Hopefully, the medical field will find a solution soon.

    One wonders, however, whether veganism or vegetarianism might prevent the onset of such behavior, as it would act as a mental deterrent. Ultimately, the two internal forces within the mind, veganism/vegetarianism versus self-cannibalism, would battle it out and the stronger of the two would emerge as the victor ! I am theorizing, but believe it is a possibility !

    Thank you, Sarah, for yet another educational and so well-written article !


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  9. Wonderful blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get comments from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thank you!


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About Sarahowlgirl1982

I am a master of Political Sciences, with special focus on Security Studies, Islamic Counter Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. I enjoy discovering and commenting things which are " in the air" but still not spoken.I also do like science writing and planing to move myself into the pure science journalism !