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Self-injury: Why and What

Self-injury

Why and What

Why Self-Injure
When it isn't Self-Injurous Behaviour
When it's Gone too Far
The Ways in Which we Self-Injure
The Ways in Which the Average Person Self-Injures
Some Scary Suggestions I've heard and read...

Why Self-injure?

Not everyone self-injures for the same reason. Many of us even have more than one reason for doing it. Here are listed some of the more common reasons. There are others that may not be listed here, of course.

To deal with unbearable emotions.
Because we were never taught (or allowed) to express feelings in a healthier way.
To punish ourselves for not being good enough, smart enough, fast enough.
To help prevent ourselves from feeling emotional pain.
For the scars: To "mark" oursleves with our failures and successes.
To get "high".
To feel something.
Because we are addicted and feel we have to.

To deal with unbearable emotions.
I think that this is the most common reason why we self-injure. We seem to be more sensitive than the average person, and so emotions that would cause them to "boil over" or "shut down" become absolutly unbearable when placed within ourselves. Not having been born with pressure release valves atop our heads, our self-injury is the fastest and easiest method for us to use to lessen these extreme emotions.

Because we were never taught (or allowed) to express feelings in a healthier way.
Maybe we grew up in abusive homes. Maybe our parents were "solid rocks" in the face of stress. Maybe they painted everything a happy shade and ignored the darker colours of the spectrum. In some way those of us who fit in this group were short-changed emotionally. No one taught us healthy release for all our emotions. Maybe we didn't have the laughter, maybe there were never any tears, maybe we never learned just what to do with anger. One day we self-injured (either accidentally or on purpose) and it lessened the pressure of those emotions which we were bottled up inside of us. Hence the cycle began.

To punish ourselves for not being good enough, smart enough, fast enough.
I have seen this in many professionals and overacheivers, and to a lesser extent in other self-injurers as well. Most of us in this group grew up in strict homes, many of us had overbearing perfectionists for parents. Some of us were abused or severly punished for no reasons at all, or for reasons we never really understood. We don't feel adequate. We don't feel that we can be "good enough". Most everything we do is wrong, and we feel we must be punished for it. In short, we feel we must "pay the price" for our inadequecies.

To help prevent ourselves from feeling emotional pain.
Often we self-injure to mute our emotional pains. By focusing on the physical actions of self-injuring, and then dealing with the physical pain of the injury, we can push aside the emotional hurt for awhile, or even forget it entirely. Almost all self-injurers occassionally fall into this category, I think.

For the scars: To "mark" oursleves with our failures and successes.
Some people don't consider this self-injury, but I do. Mainly because once the addiction begins to take us over we will do anything to repeat it, any excuse that seems reasonable to our subconscious. and self-injury of this sort is just as addictive as any other type. I know ladies who get a piercing everytime a bioyfriend leaves them, men who get a tattoo for every pay raise and new car. I think it's self-injury of a different sort. These people don't realise what they're doing, because their self-injury is more "socially acceptable". Maybe the guy with 24 facial piecings gets weird looks, but no one draws him aside and suggest hospital stays and medications, no one believes that he's going to kill himself or die trying. I have also met self-injurers who cut their forearms and legs to mark "successes" or "failures". It's even been rumoured that Christian Slater (popular U.S. actor) scars himself with cutting to mark the "important stages" of his life. In rare cases I suppose you could even find someone who burns or brands to mark themselves.

To get "high".
Self-injury, blood loss, and pain all cause chemical reactions in your brain. This chemical reaction causes a sort "high" in many people. Some self-injurers become addicted to this giddy, invincible feeling, and continue self-injuring to get this feeling.

To feel something.
Sometimes the sheer "nothingness" becomes too much too handle. Those of us who fit in this group have a lack of emotion. We don't feel much of anything, and what we do feel is very muted. This often results from a mood disorder, psychiatric medications, or traumatisation. Those in this group self-injure to feel something, to them anything, even pain, is better than feeling nothing at all.

Because we are addicted and feel we have to.
As mentioned, self-injury does cause chemical reactions in the brain (pretty much anything that deals with emotions does), and it's easy to become addicted to the "highs". However, it is also easy to become addicted to the "lows" of self-injury. We self-injure so often and for such deep reasons that it becomes like a cancer. We begin scratching as children, are biting as teens, and cutting by adulthood. The self-injury is the only way we know how to "cope" and so we begin to use it more and more often to help us get through life.

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When it isn't self-injurous behaviour...

If you're doing it for attention.
If you're doing it out of spite.
If you're doing it as a sort of accepted beauty practise (decorative scarring, piercings, tattooing).
If you're doing it in an attempt to die.

If you're doing it for attention.
Some self-injurers (though not many) do begin like this, but self-harming for attention is not really self-injurous behaviour. This is mostly found in teenagers and children, and is usually done out of jealousy, though it may also be done as a plea for help. If you self-injure for attention, then you need fast and immediate help, and you should remove anything you can hurt yourself with. A hospital stay and long term counselling is a good idea. Your road is much different from ours, but it is still painful. If you can stop, then you need to grow up and stop now, before it becomes too late. If you're depressed and don't see any point in continuing, then it is dire that you get help. Pleas for attention are sadly overlooked in our society. The way to help is often through your own self, ask for it.

If you're doing it out of spite.
This is most commonly seen in children, and in some teenagers who desire to be "rebellious". It has very little relationship to true self-injury, and rather is rooted in the desire to hurt, punish, and anger other people, rather than the self.

If you're doing it as a sort of accepted beauty practise (decorative scarring, piercings, tattooing).
If someone gets pretty little diamonds in her ears, or a cool tattoo on his arm, it's not self-injury. This sort of bodily mutilation is widely accepted in our society as a beauty practise and has nothing to do with self-injury. Decorative scarring is also becoming more acceptable, as well.

If you're doing it in an attempt to die.
Self-injurers may be suicidal sometimes, but not anymore often than the general public. We self-injure to stay alive, to continue coping, not in an attempt to kill ourselves.

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When it's gone too far...

The ER staff all know you by name.
You're self-injuring to the point of black outs, and threatening your life.
You can't go for more than two days without self-injuring.
You feel isolated, like everyone has passed you by.
You think you'll always be okay as long as everyone leaves you alone to injure yourself.
Your lows have overshadowed the highs.
You have begun collections of self-injury related items.
Rather than controlling the self-injuring, the self-injury is controlling you.

The ER staff all know you by name.
I'm not kidding. When they know your face it's time to find help. If you're visiting your local ER once a month or more than it's time to take back control of your life.

You're self-injuring to the point of black outs, and threatening your life.
I think every self-injurer gets here at some point or another, sadly enough. It usually scares us once we get this far. We feel out of control, we begin to recognise that we have a serious problem. It's time to stop before we deal out a "forever injury", and we know it. Sometimes this fear causes us to seek out help, but sometimes it causes us to self-injure yet again in an attempt to gain control over the fear.

You can't go for more than two days without self-injuring.
You're addicted and self-injury is beginning to take control of your life. It's time to relearn how to cope with life - without self-injury.

You feel isolated, like everyone has passed you by.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, this is a sure sign that you have lost control, and that your self-injury is now controlling you.

You think you'll always be okay as long as everyone leaves you alone to injure yourself.
This is another sign of addiction and denial. You won't be okay. Already the self-injury is taking over your life.

Your lows have overshadowed the highs.
Can't remember the last good thing that happened to you? This is a sign of serious depression. Self-injury is overshadowing all the important happenings of your life, and you need to find the sunlight again.

You have begun collections of self-injury related items.
100 packs of razour blades. 100 knives from all over the world. Brands and burning implaments. Hangers, whips, sticks, paddles......Sometimes the self-injurer is drawn to the item s/he self-injurers with. They overflow into our dreams, often. In stores we find ourselves standing in front our implements of choice. Sometimes we steal them, sometimes we buy them, sometimes we make them. We don't use them all. Sometimes we don't use any of them. They are a sign of our sickness. Something we can touch and hold and actually feel with our hands. This is another sign that the self-injury has broken free from any type of control. We need to reassert oursleves. (NOTE: I believe in most recoveries there will come a short period of "collecting", however this will be done in a different mood, and for different reasons, please read
my personal story for more information on this.)

Rather than controlling the self-injuring, the self-injury is controlling you.
If you recognise this outright, then you are ready now to begin healing and to relearn how to live and cope without self-injury.

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The ways in which we self-injure.

(Listed from most common to least)

Interfering with the healing of wounds
Cutting (breaking open most of the layers of skin)
Scratching, either with objects, or with fingernails ("Surface cutting")
Hitting, or bruising, with the hands
Hitting or bruising against objects
Burning, with flame, or heat
Scalding, with boiling water or other liquids
Hitting, or bruising, with objects
Beating with objects this rougher form of hitting causes open wounds rather than bruises
Burning, with chemicals
Biting
Piercing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
Breaking bones

Interfering with the healing of wounds
Sure is high up on our list, eh? I've found that a wound which takes 7 to 14 days to heal on the average person will take 14 to 28 days to heal on a self-injurer. We pick at them, rub them, tug them, cut them open, stab at them, burn them, suck on them, and intentionally bump them. Most of the time we don't even realise we'e doing it. When I started to learn to live without self-injury I found that in moments of nervousness I would rub at at my wounds and scars (no wonder they always took so long to close!).

Cutting (breaking open most of the layers of skin)
This is most often done with razours and glass, though knives, sharp metal, cans, and anything that's sharp are also used. And when our implement of choice is not available we will use anything that can cut without an edge, too. Like paper clips, pencil tips, hard plastics, metal buttons, forks, zippers, etc.. Some cutters are addicted to the blood, and I believe this "blood addiction" is a sort of lesser form of self-injury and should be treated more as an addiction in itself rather than self-injury.

Scratching, either with objects, or with fingernails ("Surface cutting")
This is sort of like wound interference, in the sense that we don't usually notice we're doing it.

Hitting, or bruising, with the hands
Slapping our faces, pounding our legs, hitting our biceps, etc.. Usually this is a "secondary" form of self-injury, I think. Meaning that there is usually other ways in which the self-injurer prefers to harm the self. In times of desperation when there are no sharp edges or hot objects around many self-injurers will repetitively hit themsleves.

Hitting or bruising against objects
Hitting walls, bashing legs and knees against tables, striking shoulders on door frames.

Burning, with flame, or heat
Most commonly used seem to be candles, burners, irons, curling irons, and heaters. Also, "branding" (heating of a metal oject, such as a spoon, and then applying it to the flesh) is a bit more common than open flames.

Scalding, with boiling water or other liquids
Most common seems to be to submerge a hand or elbow into boiling water.

Hitting, or bruising, with objects
Hitting the self with object (hangers, belts, hammers, sticks, books), I think, this is most commonly seen in those who have been through traumatising experiences.

Beating with objects
This rougher form of hitting causes open wounds rather than bruises. It seems to be more common in those of us who had difficult and abusive childhoods.

Burning, with chemicals
Seen as one of the more severe forms of self-injury, one of the dangerous, becuase the corosive chemicals continue burning, and water, rubbing, and wiping at them just make the chemicals react more.

Biting
Most commonly seen in childhood self-injury. In times of extreme stress many of us regress to biting our arms and banging our heads.

Piercing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
Sometimes we pierce to feel the "sting", sometimes it's to mark a certain experience. rarely it's to punish ourselves.

Breaking bones
This is least common form of self-injury, but very damaging. The breaking of bones is caused by repeatedly smashing or hitting the arm or leg.

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The ways in which the average person self-injures.

(Listed form most common to least)

Most people are shocked when I tell them I think most everyone self-injurers in one way or another. I have even had people becom outright hostile about it (I guess they don't want to be lumped in with "sickos" or "Psychos"), but I have never changed my mind. Our self-injury becomes habit and raises in degrees, their usually stays at a low ebb, and hence the difference. They don't usually cross the line between a little and a lot, never reach the higher highs and lower lows.
Some of their forms of self-injury (such as drinking and smoking) are just as severe (or worse) than ours, but since they're more "socially acceptable" they don't have the stigma that cutting and burning have.

Excessive drinking
Chewing the fingernails, fingertips, or cuticles
Chewing of the lips or cheeks
Smoking (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
Hitting against objects
Hitting with the hands
Interfering with healing of wounds
Piercing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
Tattooing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
Scratching
Biting

Excessive drinking
I believe alcoholism (and drug use, though it's not included here) to be a form of self-injury. It's escapism.

Chewing the fingernails, fingertips, or cuticles
This is usually done in nervous moments, though sometimes it's done while in deep thought, or while listening.

Chewing of the lips or cheeks
Same as chewing of the fingernails.

Smoking (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
I believe if we looked close enough we'd find that many self-injurers smoke, too. It's another for m of self harm, but this one is more "socially acceptable" I can give myself lung cancer in public, but imagine what would happen if I pulled out a blade and started slicing in public! And yet, they're very similar, becuase many people smoke as a subconscious form of self-injury.

Hitting against objects
Hitting knees under tables, punching walls, kicking furniture, etc.. This is usually done out of sheer frustration, or anger. For a brief moment they feel (as does a self-injurer) an overwhelming emotion, and they strike outward to release the inner pressure.

Hitting with the hands
Slapping the forehead or thighs, usually. Done out of self-frustration most commonly, and as a gesture of helplessness sometimes.

Interfering with healing of wounds
Not very common at all, though sometimes when someone gets nervous, scared, or angry, you'll find them hitting bruises, picking at scabs, and rubbing scars.

Piercing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
When the average person pierces to mark a certain event, I believe it to be a form of self-injury.

Tattooing (Only when done for certain reasons/in certain moods)
When the average person tattoos to mark a certain event, I believe it to be a form of self-injury.

Scratching
Usually the back of the hands, sometimes the arms. Mostly done when nervousness sets in, sometimes seems to be used as a distraction technique (to prevent the flooding of emotions).

Biting
Very rare, though I have met palm biters, who bite their palms in an effort to calm themsleves.

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Some scary suggestions I've heard and read...

Make a no-harm contract with your therapist or doctor
Go for a drive
Get rid of anything you could hurt yourself with

Make a no-harm contract with your therapist or doctor
If you're very quiet you could hear thousands of therapists gasping right now at this very statement. This is a severe "no-no". NEVER ASK SOMEONE TO DRAW UP A NO-HARM CONTRACT, AND NEVER SIGN ONE. A no-harm contract pushes you into a corner you're not ready for (if you were ready, then you wouldn't need a contract at all), it causes fear, shame, and desperation, and when we are scared and desperate self-injury can envelope us entirely. If self-injury is totally off-limits, then that desperation can turn inward to shame and severe depression. In an attempt to treat one affliction (the self-injury) many other afflictions are caused. No-harm contracts show us that we aren't trusted to even care for ourselves. Usually they don't work, and when they do work the do so in very damaging ways.

Go for a drive
If you are in the throes of self-injurous thoughts, NEVER GET BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL. This is comparable to drunk driving. You are risking other peoples' lives. You'll stay on the road and drive the speed limit, but you won't be able to entirely devote your mind to the roadway and you will be putting other drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Walking while in the midst of self-injurous thoughts is dangerous, too, but behind the wheel of a 2 ton vehicle you can do lots of accidental damage.

Get rid of anything you could hurt yourself with
This is not recommended unless you have been self-injury free for a year or more. If you toss out your implements of choice before you are ready your self-injury may mutate into different forms (when I had no blades, I burned), and may become worse when you feel desperate. Once again, I will state that self-injury is what keeps many of us alive. Until we learn how to feel and express feelings properly we can't give up the self-injury. It could be very damaging to us. If you're going to self-injure do so carefully, but try every avoidance technique you can think of first.

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