Self-mutilation, or self-injury as I and many others prefer to call it, is the deliberate damaging of body tissue without conscious intent to commit suicide. Just like eating disorders, self -injury is used as a coping mechanism in life. Whatever pain is inside of the person, whether it be from family problems, sexual or physical abuse, or emotional neglect, the feelings are unbearable can only be released or "forgotten about" through the pain that comes from injuring one's self. The prevalence of self-injury is unknown because many cases go unseen and untreated, but it has been estimated that about 750 per 100,000 persons per year have problems with self-injury. (Rates of 34% and 40.5% have been reported for people diagnosed as having multiple personality disorder and bulimia.) Self-injury usually begins in late childhood and early adolescence, and although for some it becomes a chronic problem, most self-mutilators do not continue the behavior after 10-15 years. However, self-injury can be a chronic problem if the situation that pushes the victim to cut or hurt themselves continues to stay in their lives.
Common suffers that self-injure are those that are abuse survivors, eating disorder sufferers, and a smaller group suffers from substance abuse and kleptomania. In the home of someone who hurts themselves, often there is violence with an inhibition of verbal expression of anger, and/or a stormy parental relationship along with neglect or a lack of emotional warmth expressed by the parents. Sometimes there is a lost of a parent through death or divorce, or parental depression or alcoholism. Often the person that hurts themselves has rapid mood swings and suffers from some sort of depression, possibly even Bipolar disorder. Perfectionistic tendencies and a dislike of the body/body shape are both characteristic of someone that is prone to self-injuring. When it appears that the family is in good shape but yet a child still self-injurers, perfectionism and the feelings of low or non-existant self-worth are the next explanation as to what triggers it.
It has been proposed that children who don't receive adequate protection and are abused, violated, or neglected, fail to learn how to protect themselves. They then reenact their abuse and lack of protection through a variety of self-harm behaviors and this is how self-mutilation can begin. The person who self-injures experiences an inability to tolerate intense feelings and often has trouble expressing emotional needs or experiences, which is where the injury comes in to help 'end' or lessen the stress. Cutting can be looked at as a means of communicating anger and distress to other people when there are no other ways.
Self-injury soon becomes an addiction and extremely hard to stop. Cutting, burning, or performing any other number of harming acts on yourself relieves, very quickly, unbearable pain and also releases your body's own narcotics called the endogenous opiates. Just like a bulimic binging but not purging, prolonging a self-injurer from hurting themselves can cause them to experience symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, and irritability. Because of this, it is too hard in the beginning for any self-injurer to stop, at least immediately.
As I mentioned up at the top, for most people the self-injuring behavior lasts about 10-15 years and then dies out, but this cannot be an excuse to not get help! Within those 10-15 years the emotions that are causing you or someone you know to injure themselves could get even more severe and frequent and lead to suicide attempts and cause other disorders, like an eating disorder, to get worse. You can also cause yourself more harm than intended from infection. Some people use rusty razor blades or dirty 'self-harm materials' to hurt themselves which carry tons and tons of germs that seep into the body. For a bulimia and/or anorexic, this can easily cause their immune system to weaken even more and be unable to fight off the bacteria as fast and fierce as before the onset of their problem(s), leaving the victim to be open to the problem of getting sick and not recovering for practically months!
Just as with an eating disoder, the self-injure should be treated ALONG WITH treatment for the ED. There are self-help techniques and centres out there for sufferers of this demon, although it is always up to you to WANT to stop and to learn diff. ways of dealing with your emotions. You must find out, in treatment and on your own, why you hurt yourself and then what triggers you to hurt yourself. Stay away from the triggers as much as you can, and also be prepared to distance yourself with healthy activities when the temptation to harm comes. Realize that replacing pain with another form of pain is not recovery, nor does it help you! You will always have the same empty and alone feeling the more and more you do this, and you DESERVE to not have to put up with any more abuse.
Cutting and Self Mutilation : By Jason Black
Secret Shame : Self-injury Information and Support
Homepage on Self-injury
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