What is Self-Injury?

Self-injury or self-harm as it is often referred to, is a particularly hard concept for people on the outside of this growing phenomenon to comprehend. Yet to those who deliberately hurt themselves, their actions are not only logical, but often seemingly necessary. For the most part, people who self-injure are not suicidal, they are merely reacting to what they perceive to be intense stress or trauma in the best way they know how.

Self-injury is a treatable condition however. For the most part, the behavior results from poor coping skills, something therapy or counseling can ultimately teach. Over time, if you self-harm, you will also need to resolve the underlying issues. We urge you to find a counselor on our site to help, as therapy gives you an opportunity to heal in the right way.

Maine Country Road

He who conquers himself has won a greater victory than he who conquers a city. - Proverbs

Self Injury and Cutting

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control more than 250,000 people each year are treated in US emergency departments for nonfatal self-inflicted injuries. This of course, only accounts for the injuries requiring medical care; today, almost 3 million Americans engage in some form of self-injury.  In Canada for the same year, suicide and self-injury were the leading causes of death for Aboriginal youths. These injuries may include self-inflicted burns, cuts, bites, hair pulling, poisoning and even breaking bones. Many self-injurers also purposely pick or pinch their skin, open existing wounds to prevent healing and they may also repeatedly bang their heads and use such things as wires, nails or pins to penetrate various body parts. 

Cutting involves making several shallow cuts, usually on the arms or legs, using a razor blade, knife or even a broken piece of glass. Self-injury is dangerous for obvious reasons, but for participants, this behavior is merely the less of two evils. These self-inflictions may prevent them from seriously hurting themselves or others. 

Why Do People Self-Injure?

For people who don’t self-harm, the idea of actually inflicting pain and purposely scarring their own bodies is bizarre. But it’s important to remember that people who self-injure are not necessarily crazy. These people, for various reasons, have not developed healthy coping skills to deal with everyday stresses. Something in their past has caused them to devalue their being and these painful memories coupled with existing emotional turmoil, have put them into a state of overload. By inflicting pain and injury to themselves, they believe they are averting feeling or even calming the powerful emotions that threaten to escape.

There are several common characteristics of people who self-injure. For the most part, the behavior begins between the ages of 10 and 16, at which time the child may have experienced an emotional trauma such as divorce or the death of a parent. Generally, there may be abuse and violence in the home. Or the home may be “normal,” but functions in a way the child(ren) feel rejected, unworthy, inadequate and helpless. Most past research indicates that women are more likely to self-harm than men but in 2006, a Cornell University study proved this ratio is quickly closing. The study did show though, that women are twice as likely to scratch, pinch and cut themselves as men, who are more apt to punch things to injure their hands. Ironically, the majority of self-injurers claim they feel little or no pain while hurting themselves, most likely because they dissociate during the event.

In a broad sense, there are three reasons why people self injure. If you engage in this behavior you may be looking to evoke or suppress feelings. When emotions run too high or stress becomes overwhelming, you turn to self-injury as a way to divert these feelings. On the other hand, if you are numb and devoid of most feeling, inflicting pain is a way to feel something. Sometimes, self-injury is a means of communication. Because you may not have the skills or tools to express what you are feeling on the inside, you simply do it on the outside. Many people who self-harm also do so as a means of punishment or as a way to control a situation, another person or themselves. As well, there are those who self-injure to experience the resulting rush of endorphins, similar to a “runner’s high”. This chemical release is very calming but it can also become very addicting. In any case, self-injury is an obvious cry for help.

Getting Help for Self-Injury and Cutting

If you self-injure, you do need help. This behavior is not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about though, it has simply become the only way you know how to cope with overwhelming emotions and stress. But you do need to address the underlying reasons causing you to hurt yourself in the first place. By inflicting these injuries you are also putting yourself at risk for infection, anemia and dehydration, all of which can be life threatening if not addressed. Counseling and therapy can teach you new, more effective coping skills and provide you with alternatives to the self-injurious behavior. Just as your physical injuries need time to heal, so do your emotional wounds. With understanding and support you can recover.

Help And Treatment for Cutting And Self-Injury

Self-harm in a small way is the new anorexia. There may be shame in it, but it can have an aspect of “eliteness” to it as well. You may have experienced both feelings. But what you ultimately experience is the addictive nature of self-injury that begins to take over you become powerless to stop. One does not expect this in the beginning, for the self-harm is experienced as helping you at first.

It is scary to loose control. And it is complicated by your need to feel relieved, or simply to feel, which self-injury gives you. Recovery interjects help into this exact place you feel trapped – in your need to manage your feelings and your need to regain control or not loose control to the addictive cycle of harming yourself. Treatment offers you support, a place to talk, to gain knowledge on the underlying painful issues and the steps and methods to healing inside and out. You need to heal inside and out, to learn positive ways of dealing with your emotions and the waves of impulses that come with desire of harming yourself, for which you seek relief. Relief can come in much kinder ways. You need to know you are worth it. Values-Based Counselling offers more than managing symptoms, it is about resolving the underlying issues to provide new opportunities to experience life more fully.

If you need a therapist to help you, we have a large selection of online therapists who are professional and licensed counselors, able to help you right where you are over the phone, via email, or webcam/messenger. If you prefer face to face counseling, please use our therapist directory and find a city close to you with a therapist who can meet your needs.


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