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.
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.