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  1. #1

    What is self-injury?

    What Is Self-Injury?
    by Desirea Black, 2001

    Everyone develops ways to deal with the pain they experience, whether it is physical or emotional. Self-injury is one method that some people use. It is a practice that is largely misunderstood by doctors, the public, and family members of those who engage in self-injury. People may react to the self-injurer with disgust, anger, or fear. This may cause the self-injurer to become ashamed and to hide his or her practices rather than seeking help.

    What is self-injury?
    Self-injury is the act of hurting oneself on purpose. Most self-injurers engage in the behaviour as a method of coping with feelings, such as depression or hopelessness. It is not an attempt to kill oneself. Self-injury takes many different forms, including cutting, burning, scratching, hair pulling, breaking bones, hitting, head banging, and interfering with wound healing. Depending on the person, self-injurers may or may not actually feel the pain they are inflicting on themselves. For this reason, some people may injure themselves more severely than they intend.

    Who self-injures?
    Many different types of people use self-injury as a way to cope with emotions. Often the practice begins in the teen years. Some people believe that the practice is becoming more widespread. Self-injury is seen in patients with different psychiatric disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders. Many self-injurers are diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis may or may not be relevant to the self-injurer and should only be made if the person exhibits additional symptoms of this disorder. However, many people are diagnosed with this disorder based on the presence of self-injury alone.

    Why do people self-injure?
    Many self-injurers use self-injury as a coping mechanism, a way to deal with stressful emotions or events. Often the emotions they feel are extreme and cannot be expressed verbally by the self-injurer. Some people self-injure to punish themselves, to show people how much they are hurting, or to calm themselves. Some people use it as a method of stopping disassociation, while others may use it to induce this state.

    Self-injury is not a suicidal act, though many people around the self-injurer may think so. It is also not a cry for attention or an attempt at manipulation. It is believed that the act of self-injury may cause the release of certain chemicals in the brain that help to calm people.

    Desirea Black is a freelance writer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  2. Re: What is self-injury?

    As a person with a long history of self harm, I should like to expand on the reasons why a person might commit harm. In my own specific case, the cutting was often because I felt strongly out of control, and cutting was one of the few things over which I had sure and certain control, knowledge that this action would lead to the same result.

    Of course this often combined with other reasons, but I find that this idea is often overlooked and should be borne in mind.

  3. #3

    Re: What is self-injury?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gayalondiel
    As a person with a long history of self harm, I should like to expand on the reasons why a person might commit harm. In my own specific case, the cutting was often because I felt strongly out of control, and cutting was one of the few things over which I had sure and certain control, knowledge that this action would lead to the same result.
    Hi, Gayalondiel - welcome to the forum.

    You make a good point: "cutting" can be about more than one thing and trying to find a way to exert some control over what often seems to be an uncontrollable and unpredictable or uncertain world is one of the reasons. Interestingly, it is also an important component in eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    It's not about controlling other people, by the way - that's something quite different. It's about controlling your own life and your own world, making those things more predictable. And the fact that life today is so much more stressful and "uncontrollable" and unpredictable for many people (especially young people, I think) is probably one of the reasons we are seeing an increase in the frequency of these problems or disorders.

  4. #4

    Re: What is self-injury?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Baxter
    It's not about controlling other people, by the way - that's something quite different. It's about controlling your own life and your own world, making those things more predictable. And the fact that life today is so much more stressful and "uncontrollable" and unpredictable for many people (especially young people, I think) is probably one of the reasons we are seeing an increase in the frequency of these problems or disorders.
    I worry A LOT about other people thinking that I cut and burn to manipulate. I don't think I do. I go to great lengths to hide it, wear long sleeves all the time and no one ever sees my wounds except sometimes my husband. He says it is manipulation, but he really only sees it about 1 time out of every ten times that I do it. He's actually forced me down to look at my arms. He's in the medical profession so he says that is why. I'm really not sure, but it is humiliating. Of course if I didn't do it to myself nothing like that would happen.

  5. #5

    What is self-injury?

    Wow, I did the quote thing right. :O

  6. #6

    What is self-injury?

    Yes you did, Janet... :o)

    He says it is manipulation, but he really only sees it about 1 time out of every ten times that I do it. He's actually forced me down to look at my arms. He's in the medical profession so he says that is why. I'm really not sure, but it is humiliating.
    I must say that I am surprised that someone "in the medical profession" would have so little insight or understanding... or compassion for that matter.

    Of course if I didn't do it to myself nothing like that would happen.
    And if he were a more compassionate and caring person it wouldn't happen either.

  7. What is self-injury?

    He says it is manipulation, but he really only sees it about 1 time out of every ten times that I do it.
    If my own experience is anything to go by, then he's just plain wrong. "Attention seeking" is so often used by people who just don't understand as a way of dismissing people who ned help. Case in point: I moved to a completely new area a few months ago, and in the past weeks I've fallen back on bad habits. The community I work in is loving and caring and 100% there for each other, and I've kept it hidden. I'm actually terrified of letting anyone on the island know, for a variety of reasons (well, fears really) but uppermost is the idea that they'll think I'm doing it for attention. Surely that fear, in of itself, shows that I'm not?

    Now, I don't know you, but I think I can safely say that for me its about me, not about manipulating others, and it sounds like that's the same for you. At least we know there *are* people out there who understand, right?

  8. #8

    What is self-injury?

    I would like to add something here. For myself, SI is a warning sign. Often it is something I begin to do when nothing else works. I do cut, not a lot granted. The times I have, I can't stand seeing it everyday.

    The comments on how SI is not a way to attempt suicide, I have to disagree just slightly. And this is only my view. I start the process of SI as a way of punishing myself, but really, its the direction that I am considering on taking next. Its partly my way of telling myself, "Okay, do this to yourself to reinforce how unworthy you really are, then soon take the next step to complete the harm in the sense of committing that final act."

    Anytime I have done SI, I have attempted suicide shortly after. I do feel that SI can be broad, its so different for everyone. By me starving myself, yes to me this is SI. I have no plan of attempting suicide; please don't get me wrong. I have thought of it day in and day out. But no plans. But recently I have cut, not bad, but have taken a razor to myself. The ED is a way of hiding it better, nobody can see that. Yes, this is a warning to my own self. But I do feel that SI can be an alarm bell going off.

    Just a thought to ponder,

    Haunting

  9. #9

    What is self-injury?

    We call people "individuals" because they are... I don't doubt what you say about your own situation, Haunting, but it is nonetheless true that most "cutters" are not suicidal or intending to kill themselves, or even to punish themselves necessarily.

    Generally speaking, for most people, it's about expressing something that the individual doesn't know how to express very well any other way...

  10. #10

    What is self-injury?

    Yes Dr. Baxter I do agree. I wanted to add this point in, simply because this holds true for me. I do know what you have said here and don't agrue this at all.

    I have known many people who battle with SI in their daily lives. What is said here holds true for about 90% of these friends. I just know that for maybe a small percentage, my point of view is also similar for them as well.

    I have never cut myself to actually kill myself, like I say, its a warning sign that suicide ideation is most likely going to take over at some point. I had this friend that was like a "twin" in our thought process. She cut so badly that she lost almost the full use of her hand. She ended up in surgery. Shortly after, she attempted suicide, thankfully she was not sucessful.

    Haunting

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