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Self Injurious Behavior

Posted Dec 12 2008 1:26pm

Self injury is called many things: Self-inflicted violence, self-injury, self-harm, para-suicide, delicate cutting, self-abuse, self-mutilation.

But what is it?

Self-injury is the repeated act of attempting to alter your mood by inflicting physical harm serious enough to cause tissue damage to your body. “Tissue damage” means tears, bruises, or burns to the skin — something that causes bleeding or marks that don’t go away in a few minutes. This can include cutting (with knives, razors, glass, pins, any sharp object), burning, hitting your body with an object or your fists, hitting a heavy object (like a wall), picking at skin until it bleeds, biting yourself, pulling your hair out, etc. The most common are cutting, burning, and headbanging.

This is what Wikipedia says on the subject:

“Self-injury or self-harm is deliberate injury inflicted by a person upon their own body without suicidal intent. Some scholars use more technical definitions related to specific aspects of this behavior. These acts may be aimed at relieving otherwise unbearable emotions, and/or sensations of unreality and numbness. The illness is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, or mental traits such as low self-esteem or perfectionism, but a statistical analysis is difficult, as many self-injurers conceal their injuries.

“Self harmers are often mistaken as suicidal, but in the majority of cases this is inaccurate. Non-fatal self-harm is common in young people worldwide and due to this prevalence the term self-harm is increasingly used to denote any non-fatal acts of deliberate self-harm, irrespective of the intention.

“There are a number of different treatments available for self-injurers which concentrate on either treating the underlying causes or on treating the behavior itself. When self-injury is associated with depression, antidepressant drugs and treatments may be effective. Alternative approaches involve avoidance techniques, which focus on keeping the self-injurer occupied with other activities, or replacing the act of self-harm with safer methods that do not lead to permanent damage”

Why do they do it?

To better understand the phenomenon, check out these revealing quotes from teens who self-injure. They first appeared in Jane E. Brody’s NY Times piece called “The Growing Wave of Teenage Self Injury.”

“I feel relieved and less anxious after I cut. The emotional pain slowly slips away into the physical pain.”

“It’s a way to have control over my body because I can’t control anything else in my life.”

“It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words.”

“I usually feel like I have a black hole in the pit of my stomach. At least if I feel pain it’s better than nothing.”

About 4% of the population engages in self-injury, and it’s equally prevalent in males and females. Untreated depression and other disorders of the brain usually lead people to self-injury as a coping mechanism. It is true that self-injury initially provides relief and release, but can eventually become addictive and increasingly dangerous;l so it’s important to understand that these behaviors pose serious risks, and are likely symptoms of a problem that can be treated.

To clarify, it’s NOT self-injury if your primary purpose is:

  • sexual pleasure
  • body decoration
  • spiritual enlightenment via ritual
  • fitting in or being cool

Want to know more?

Some helpful sites include:

S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES®

The American Self Harm Information Clearinghouse

Mental Health America


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