What is it?
When a person deliberately engages in a behavior resulting
in physical harm to him/herself, but the behavior is not an expression
of suicidal intent and is not done in an effort to attain sexual pleasure,
the behavior is considered to be a "self-injurious" behavior.
Although cutting is the most common form of self-injury (SI), burning
and headbanging are also very common. Other forms of SI include biting,
skin-picking, hair-pulling, hitting the body with objects, or hitting
objects with the body.
Body markings (piercing, tattooing, etc.) that are done
for cosmetic preferences are not generally considered SI.
Why does a person self-injure?
In most cases, SI is done as a way of coping with
overwhelming and intense emotions. Many people who self-injure are
not able to control their emotions well and may find it difficult
to identify, express, or release their emotions in a constructive
way. As an alternative, they engage in self-injury to relieve their
tension and distress.
Research shows that the body releases endorphins when
inflicted with physical trauma. For some people, the release of
endorphins produces a morphine-like feeling. As a result, some people
may self-injure in an effort to produce that morphine-like "high,"
a behavior that may become addictive.
How can you stop self-injuring?
The more you understand about your need to injure yourself,
the more likely you are to be able to make good choices and look after
yourself. Talking to a friend, relative, or other concerned individual
may be helpful, but you should choose carefully who to tell. You should
be prepared for a possible emotional, even shocked, reaction from
the person you tell. Be sure to ask others for what you need, such
as to be listened to and not lectured; to be treated normally; to
be distracted or offered companionship; or even to be consoled in
Talking to a counselor is a good way of getting support
while you work on stopping your self-injuring behavior. Even if
you feel comfortable talking to a relative or a friend, you should
also consider working with a counselor.
What can you do for a friend?
If you know someone who self-injures, it is natural
to feel upset, worried, helpless, and even angry about what your
friend is doing. Of course, you will want your friend to stop the
self-injury, but you cannot force him/her to stop.
However, you can help by trying to understand how
the self-injury is beneficial to that person. It may be helpful
to understand SI as a way your friend copes with difficulties in
life. This can increase your acceptance of his/her need for intervention
and help you assist your friend in getting professional help.
Encourage your friend to talk, and listen sympathetically.
Offer your friendship and understanding. Remember that you are not
responsible for your friend's actions. Do not offer more than you
can cope with, and do not try to be this person's sole source of
guidance. Seek consultation for yourself at The Citadel Counseling
Center if you are concerned about a friend or need support in referring
your friend for counseling.
Adapted from www.selfinjury.org
and information in The Prevention Researcher (Nov. 2000)