A person who becomes a habitual self-injurer usually follows a common progression:
* Self-injury temporarily relieves intense feelings, pressure or anxiety
* Self-injury provides a sense of being real, being alive â of feeling something
* Injuring oneself is a way to externalize emotional internal pain â to feel pain on the outside instead of the inside
* Self-injury is a way to control and manage pain â unlike the pain experienced through physical or sexual abuse
* Self-injury is a way to break emotional numbness (the self-anesthesia that allows someone to cut without feeling pain)
* Self-abuse is self-soothing behavior for someone who does not have other means to calm intense emotions
* Self-loathing â some self-injurers are punishing themselves for having strong feelings (which they were usually not allowed to express as children), or for a sense that somehow they are bad and undeserving (an outgrowth of abuse and a belief that it was deserved)
* Self-injury followed by tending to wounds is a way to express self-care, to be self-nurturing, for someone who never learned how to do that in a more direct way
* Harming oneself can be a way to draw attention to the need for help, to ask for assistance in an indirect way
* Sometimes self-injury is an attempt to affect others â to manipulate them, make them feel guilty or bad, make them care, or make them go away
What is the relationship between self-injury and suicide?
Self-injury is not suicidal behavior. In fact, it may be a way to reduce the tension that, left unattended, could result in an actual suicide attempt. Self-injury is the best way the individual knows to self-sooth. It may represent the best attempt the person has at creating the least damage. However, self-injury is highly linked to poor sense of self-worth, and over time, that depressed feeling can evolve into suicidal attempts. And sometimes self-harm may accidentally go farther than intended, and a life-threatening injury may result.
What can you do to help a friend or family member who is a self-injurer?
It is very hard to realize that someone you care about is physically harming herself or himself. Your concern may come out in frustration and even comments that can drive the person farther away. Some things that might be helpful are:
* Understand that self-harming behavior is an attempt to maintain a certain amount of control, and that it is a way of self-soothing
* Let her or him know that you care and that you will listen
* Encourage expression of emotions, including anger
* Spend time doing enjoyable activities together
* Offer to help find a therapist or support group
* Do not tell the person to stop the behavior or make judgmental comments â people who feel worthless and powerless are even more likely to self-injure
* If you are the parent of a self-injuring child, prepare yourself to address your familyâs difficulties with expression of feelings, as this is a common factor in self-injury â this is not about blame, but about a learning process that will help the entire family
How can a self-injuring person stop this behavior?
Self-injury is a behavior that becomes compulsive and addictive. Like any other addiction, even though other people think the person should stop, most addicts have a hard time just saying no to their behavior â even while realizing it is unhealthy.
There are several things to do to help yourself:
Acknowledge that this IS a problem, that you are hurting on the inside, and that you need professional assistance to stop injuring yourself.
Realize that this is not about being bad or stupid â this is about recognizing that a behavior that somehow was helping you handle your feelings has become as big a problem as the one it was trying to solve in the first place.
Find one person you trust â maybe a friend, teacher, minister, counselor, or relative â and say that you need to talk about something serious that is bothering you.
Get help in identifying what âtriggersâ your self-harming behaviors and ask for help in developing ways to either avoid or address those triggers
Recognize that self-injury is an attempt to self-sooth, and that you need to develop other, better ways to calm and sooth yourself
Try some substitute activities when you feel like hurting yourself â there are some examples here, and many more that can be found online (links are provided below):
If cutting is a way to deal with anger that you cannot express openly, try taking those feelings out on something else â running, dancing fast, screaming, punching a pillow, throwing something, ripping something apart
If cutting is a way to feel something when you feel numb inside, try holding ice or a package of frozen food, taking a very hot or very cold shower, chewing something with a very strong taste (like chili peppers, raw ginger root, or a grapefruit peel), or snapping a rubber band hard on your wrist
If cutting is a way to calm yourself, try taking a bubble bath, doing deep breathing, writing in a journal, drawing, or doing some yoga
If cutting involves your having to see blood, try drawing a red ink line where you would usually cut yourself, in combination with other suggestions above
I hope reading this helps those with friends or family members that self injure themselves to better understand this illness and ways to combat this behavior. It isn't always about wanting attention like so many people may think it is!
Many people who self-injure keep it a secret because they feel like they are crazy, insane and evil. They fear if they tell anyone, they might be locked away forever. The truth is, people who intentionally harm themselves are in fact very normal and sane people, who are in a lot of emotional pain. They self-injure as a way to cope, because they were probably never taught how to deal with intense feelings and emotions in healthy ways. Unfortunately, when people hear about this form of self-harm, they do tend to place labels on these people as being psychotic and crazy, which is why so many people do not come forward and ask for help. Until society dispels all the myths surrounding self-injury and start to educate themselves on this subject, sufferers will continue to keep quiet and this form of abuse will continue to be a secret for a long time to come.
Is it self-injury that is unhealthy, or others' reactions to it?
Okay. I'd just really like to know why everyone is making the assumption that this is unhealthy in the first place. I self-injure, I know the benefits and detriments (like discrimination, but then that isn't a result of my self-injury but of other people's mindsets so I don't see why I should stop because of that), I'm fine with the behavior and with myself. I don't see the point in "learning another way". So I don't see why everyone else is trying to make me stop, to the point of invading my privacy and betraying the trust I've put into my personal relationships. I don't feel like the world is safe any more and I don't see how this can be my fault.
Thank you, but what I don't get is how I can be hurting myself when I tell myself that I am not doing so. If I tell myself that a certain action doesn't harm me emotionally, then how can it?
Note that I've never seriously injured myself in any physical sense - I've never required hospitalisation or anything, which is part of the reason why I feel that everyone is making a mountain out of a molehill.
I suppose that the interesting cycle of any addiction is that the addictive behavior actually NUMBS emotions, so it's natural that you wouldn't feel anything. It's part of what happens during the process and why self-injury (or drinking or smoking weed chronically or shooting dope) works for you.
We only see the effects of addiction after we stop, examine and start to behave differently. If you really feel that you're OK, why the need to justify yourself at all? Just go ahead and cope with life the way you do now. (underneath everything, I think that you might sense that something is not right)
Ah. But I am fine coping with life the way I do. I don't feel like I have to justify my actions. I'm fine with the bandages and even the scars. Unfortunately, while I don't see a need to justify my behavior, everyone else is pressuring me to do so.
But my personal response to the behavior is, "Hey, I'm fine. This is just something I do." And I'd gladly continue like that if I could.