Last week I ran an article about a young woman who among other things was caught up for many years in self-injury. That article is located HERE. Her story is a snapshot into an illness that very few of us can begin to understand. Why would a person intentionally harm themselves when they have no intention of taking their life? This is the first of a two part article that will educate us about self-injury and those who are caught up in such a self destructive illness. Last week we had a reader share about a family member who was able to recover from this illness. Sound intervention and God’s grace is available to anyone to those who self-injure. This article is reproduced with permission from the Mayo Clinic. Their web site is located HERE. Allan
By Mayo Clinic staff
Self-injury is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s not meant as a suicide attempt and isn’t part of a socially acceptable cultural or artistic expression or ritual, such as tattooing. Rather, self-injury is an unhealthy effort to cope with overwhelming negative emotions, such as intense anger, tension and frustration.
While self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it’s usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions. Self-injury is often done on impulse, so it’s sometimes considered an impulse-control behavior problem. Self-injury may accompany a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder. Self-injury is also known as self-harm, self-injurious behavior, self-mutilation and parasuicide.
By Mayo Clinic staff
Because self-injury is often kept secret, it may be difficult to spot signs and symptoms. Self-injury symptoms may include:
- Scars, such as from burns or cuts
- Fresh cuts, scratches or other wounds
- Broken bones
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Spending a great deal of time alone
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants even in hot weather
- Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
Forms of self-injury
One of the most common forms of self-injury is cutting, which involves making cuts or scratches on your body with a sharp object. But there are many other forms of self-harm, including:
- Carving words or symbols on the skin
- Breaking bones
- Hitting or punching
- Piercing the skin with sharp objects
- Head banging
- Pulling out hair
- Interfering with wound healing
Self-injury is usually repetitive behavior, occurring multiple times, rather than just once. 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. But any area of the body may be subjected to self-injury. Self-injury may be painful or not, largely depending on your state of mind at the time.
Self-injury frequently is an impulsive act. You may become upset, or triggered, and develop an urge to hurt yourself. Other times, though, self-injury is a planned event, inflicted in a controlled, methodical manner.
When to see a doctor
If you engage in any form of self-injury, even minor, or have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help. Any form of self-injury is a sign of bigger issues that need to be addressed. Self-injury contributes to a life of distress and chaos. It also poses the risk of serious injury, infection or disfigurement, or even death. And self-injury has some addictive qualities, making it very hard to overcome on your own.
While you may feel ashamed and embarrassed about your behavior, you can find supportive, caring and nonjudgmental help. Getting appropriate treatment can help you learn healthier ways to cope — ways that won’t leave your body permanently scarred. Try to work up the courage to confide in someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, loved one, health care provider, or a school or university official. They can help you take the first steps to successful treatment.
When a loved one engages in self-injury
If you have a loved one who engages in self-injury, you may not know what to do. You may be shocked, dismayed and scared. Learning more about self-injury can help you understand why it occurs and help you develop a compassionate but firm approach.
If your loved one is an adult, gently encourage him or her to seek medical treatment. If it’s your child, you can start by consulting your pediatrician or family doctor, who can provide an initial evaluation or a referral to a mental health specialist. Don’t yell at your child or make threats or accusations — that may just make the situation more volatile.
If you have injured yourself severely or believe it may be life-threatening, call 911 or your local emergency services provider. If a loved one has injured himself or herself severely, take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help. If possible, take away any instruments used for self-injury.
By Mayo Clinic staff
There’s no one single or simple cause of self-injury. The mix of emotions that triggers self-injury is complex. In general, self-injury is usually the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with deep psychological pain. For instance, you may have a hard time regulating, expressing or understanding your emotions. Physical injury distracts you from these painful emotions or helps you feel a sense of control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
When you feel emotionally empty, self-injury is a way to feel something, anything, even if it’s physical pain. It also offers an external way to express internal distress and despair. You may also turn to self-injury as a way to punish yourself for perceived faults. Sometimes self-injury is an attempt to seek attention or to manipulate others.
By Mayo Clinic staff
Self-injury can affect anyone, from pre-adolescents to older adults. But certain factors may increase the risk of self-injury, including:
- Age. Most people who engage in self-injury are adolescents. Self-injury often starts in the early teen years, when emotions are more volatile and children face increasing peer pressure, loneliness and conflicts with parents or other authority figures.
- Sex. Self-injury was thought to be more common in females than in males, but recent research shows that the rates are generally about the same.
- Family history. Some evidence suggests that self-injury is more common in people who have a family history of suicide, self-injury or self-destructive acts.
- Life issues. Some people who injure themselves were sexually, physically or emotionally abused as children or adults. They may also have experienced neglect in childhood. Social isolation and living alone may also increase the risk. Unstable living conditions, such as unemployment and divorce, also may be factors.
- Mental health issues. Among those at highest risk are people who experience many negative emotions and are highly self-critical. People who self-injure are more likely to be impulsive and to have poor problem-solving skills. Also, self-injury is commonly associated with certain mental illnesses, including borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.
- Alcohol or substance misuse. People who engage in self-harm often do so while under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.