What is self-injury?
"Self-injury" is any sort of self-harm which involves inflicting injuries or pain on one's own body not necessarily with the intent of suicide. It can take many forms. The most common form of sel-injury is probably cutting, usually superficially, but sometimes deeply. Women may also burn themselves, punch themselves or hit their bodies against something. Some people pick their skin or pull out hair.
How common is self-injury?
Self-injuiry is far more widespread than is generally realized. All sorts of people self-injure. Often they carry on successful careers or look after families and there is little outward sign that there is anything wrong. Self-injury seems to be more common among woman, partly because men are more likely to express strong feelings such as anger outwardly.
Many individuals who self-injure believe they are the only person that hurts themselves in this way. Fear and shame may force a person to keep self-injury secret for many years. This means that the true extent of the problem is unknown. Our experience shows that where it is acceptable to talk about it, many individuals reveal that they have self-injured for some time.
Why do people self-injure?
There are always powerful reasons why a person hurts him/herself. For most, it is a way of surviving great emotional pain. Many people cope with difficulties in their lives in ways that are risky and harmful to them. Some drink or eat too much, smoke, drive too fast, gamble, or make themselves ill through overwork or worry. They might do this to numb or distract themselves from problems or feelings they cannont bear to face.
Self-injury, though shocking, bears many similarities to these "ordinary" forms of self-harm. Like alcohol or drugs, hurting oneself may help block out painful feelings. Like taking risks or gambling, it may provide danger and distraction.
Often individuals say that self-injury helps them to release unbearable tension, which may arise from anxiety, grief, or anger. It puts their pain outside, where it feels easier to cope with. For others, it relieves feelings of guilt or shame. Sometimes a person's self-injury is a "cry fo help," a way of showing (even to oneself) that he/she has suffered and is in pain. Perhaps hurting oneself is a way of feeling "real" and alive, or having control over "somtheing" in life. What are behind a person's distress may be painful experiences in childhood or adulthood. One may have suffered neglect or abuse, or may have always been criticized or sildence, rather than supported and allowed to express their own needs and feelings. Some individuals who self-injure lost their parents early, or came from chaotic or violent families. For others, adult experiences of emotional or physical cruelty ahve led to their desperation.
Self-injury is a failed suicide attempt
Self-injury is a way of carrying on with life, not of dying. Injuries are seldom life threatening. It is important to distinguish self-injury from a suicide attempt, so that its true meanings can be understood.
Self-injury is "just attention seeking"
Self-injury is primarily about helping oneself cope with great pain. For some, it is a desperate attempt to show that something is really wrong, and attention should be paid to their distress.
Self-injury is a sign of madness
Self-injury is a sign of distress, not madness; a sign of someone trying to cope with her life as best she can.
A person who self-injures is a danger to others
Someone who self-injures is directing her hurt and anger at herself, not at others. Most would be appalled at the idea of hurting someone else.
What can help?
Self-injury causes great distress, and can seem a difficult problem to overcome. But it is possible for a person to stop hurting his/herself, if that person can begin to understand and resolve the issues behind their actions.
If you are someone who self-injures
Think about what your self-injury is "saying" about your feeling and your life. This will give you clues about problems that you need to work on. You might find it helpful to talk about your self-injury and what lies behind it with friends or a counselor. To find out about counseling contact the Baldwin Wallace Counseling Center at 440/826-2180.
If you want to help someone who self-injures
It is understandable to feel upset, shocked or even angry when someone you care about hurts themselves. Try to keep seeing the person in pain behind the injuries. The most precious things you can offer are acceptance and support. Let your friend know you understand that self-injury is helping her to cope at the moment. Your friend is not "bad" or "mad" for doing it. You could invite them to talk about their feelings, or to call you if they are having a difficult time. Only offer as much as you can cope with, and don't try to take responsibility for stopping them from engaging in self injury. Encourage them to seek professional assistance and to contact Counseling Services.