Self-Harming

There's no one single or simple cause that leads someone to self-injure.

In general, self-injury is usually the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with psychological pain related to issues of personal identity, and having difficulty "finding one's place" in family and society. The person has a hard time regulating, expressing or understanding emotions. The mix of emotions that triggers self-injury is complex. For instance, there may be feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection, self-hatred or confused sexuality.

Because self-injury is often done impulsively, it can be considered an impulse-control behavior problem. Self-injury may be linked to a variety of mental disorders, such as depression, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder.

Through self-injury the person may be trying to:
  • Manage or reduce severe distress or anxiety and provide a sense of relief
  • Provide a distraction from painful emotions through physical pain
  • Feel a sense of control over his or her body, feelings or life situations
  • Feel something - anything - even if it's physical pain, when feeling emotionally empty
  • Express internal feelings in an external way
  • Communicate depression or distressful feelings to the outside world
  • Be punished for perceived faults
Forms of self-injury

One of the most common forms of self-injury is cutting, which involves making cuts or severe scratches on different parts of the body with a sharp object. Other forms of self-harm include:
  • Burning (with lit matches, cigarettes or hot, sharp objects like knives)
  • Carving words or symbols on the skin
  • Breaking bones
  • Hitting or punching
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects
  • Head banging
  • Biting
  • Pulling out hair
  • Persistently picking at or interfering with wound healing
Most frequently, the arms, legs and front of the torso are the targets of self-injury because these areas can be easily reached and easily hidden under clothing.

Because self-injury is often an impulsive act, becoming upset can trigger an urge to self-injure.

Those at Greater Risk
  • Girls
  • Teenagers and young adults
  • Friends of those who self-injure
  • Unstable families - neglected and abused
  • Those with mental health challenges
  • Those dealing with substance abuse issues
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