Self-injury is a complex and harmful set of behaviors that
some individuals use to cope with life stressors.
What is self-injury?
Self-injury is when people deliberately harm themselves and damage bodily tissue. Self-injury takes many forms— most common forms of self-injury include: cutting, burning, carving into the skin, interfering with wound healing, hitting oneself, insertion of objects under the skin, and intentional bone breaking. Additionally, self-injury is culturally sanctioned, as self-injury only refers to behaviors that are not socially acceptable within the individual’s environment. That is, many new forms of body art (i.e. extensive tattooing, body modification, piercing, etc.) are NOT currently considered to be self-injurious due to their cultural acceptance.
Why do people hurt themselves?
People engage in self-injurious behaviors for various reasons. Some people harm themselves to make pain go away. Stress can be a trigger to self-injury, as some people may feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with the stress. When many stressful events build up, the individual may engage in self-injury in an attempt to relieve the stress and negative feelings that may go along with it. Self-injury may help individuals to feel in control of their lives momentarily. Self-injury can also be a way of dealing with symptoms of other mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.
Some people may self-harm as a way of feeling something. Often times, these individuals feel “numb,” disconnected from their lives, or alone. Self-injury reminds the individual that they are alive and real. Individuals may self-injure as a way to communicate, as a response to negative body image, and as a way to connect with others.
Are people who hurt themselves trying to commit suicide?
Most often, no. Although individuals who attempt suicide have commonly self-injured in the past, engaging in self-injurious behaviors is not a suicidal behavior. Self-injury is usually an attempt to stay alive, while reducing pain.
What to do if you self-injure:
Most importantly, if you are having thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also ask a support person to take you to the nearest emergency department.
Counseling can be a key tool in managing self-injury. Therapists at Metta Psychology Group can help you to identify the purpose of your self-injury and learn effective coping skills with the hopes of reducing the harmful behaviors. Therapists can also aid in managing symptoms of other mental health concerns that may be related, such as depression and anxiety.