A medical definition of self harm might be described as the practice of cutting or otherwise wounding oneself, usually considered as indicating psychological disturbance. Self-injury behavior is something that is more common than many people realize. Some people might drink to drown out emotional pain. Others may self harm. Self-harm is the deliberate infliction of damage to your own body, and includes cutting, burning, and other forms of injury. While cutting can look like attempted suicide, it’s often not; most people who mutilate themselves do it as a way to regulate mood. People who hurt themselves in this way may be motivated by a need to distract themselves from inner turmoil, or to quickly release anxiety that builds due to an inability to express intense emotions.
A common belief regarding self-harm is that it is an attention-seeking behavior; however, in most cases, this is completely inaccurate. Self-harmer’s in general are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior, leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behavior from others. They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing. Self-harm in such individuals may not be associated with suicidal or para-suicidal behavior. People who self-harm are not usually seeking to end their own life; it has been suggested instead that they are using self-harm as a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain or discomfort or as an attempt to communicate distress.
Self-Injury is also termed self-mutilation, self-harm or self-abuse. The behavior is defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self. Self-injury includes: 1) cutting, 2) scratching, 3) picking scabs or interfering with wound healing, 4) burning, 5) punching self or objects, 6) infecting oneself, 7) inserting objects in body openings, 8) bruising or breaking bones, 9) some forms of hair-pulling, as well as other various forms of bodily harm. These behaviors, which pose serious risks, may by symptoms of a mental health problem that can be treated.
Warning signs that someone is injuring themselves include: unexplained frequent injury including cuts and burns, wearing long pants and sleeves in warm weather, low self-esteem, difficulty handling feelings, relationship problems, and poor functioning at work, school or home.
Incidence & onset. Experts estimate the incidence of habitual self-injurers is nearly 1% of the population, with a higher proportion of females than males. The typical onset of self-harming acts is at puberty. The behaviors often last 5-10 years but can persist much longer without appropriate treatment.
Background of self-injurers. Though not exclusively, the person seeking treatment is usually from a middle to upper class background, of average to high intelligence, and has low self-esteem. Nearly 50% report physical and/or sexual abuse during his or her childhood. Many report (as high as 90%), that they were discouraged from expressing emotions, particularly anger and sadness.
Behavior patterns. Many who self-harm use multiple methods. Cutting arms or legs is the most common practice. Self-injurers may attempt to conceal the resultant scarring with clothing, and if discovered, often make excuses as to how an injury happened.
Reasons for behaviors. Self-injurers commonly report they feel empty inside, over or under stimulated, unable to express their feelings, lonely, not understood by others and fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self-injury is their way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings, and is generally not a suicide attempt. But relief is temporary, and a self-destructive cycle often develops without proper treatment.
Dangers. Self-injurers often become desperate about their lack of self-control and the addictive-like nature of their acts, which may lead them to true suicide attempts. The self-injury behaviors may also cause more harm than intended, which could result in medical complications or death. Eating disorders and alcohol or substance abuse intensify the threats to the individual’s overall health and quality of life.
Diagnoses. The diagnosis for someone who self-injures can only be determined by a licensed psychiatric professional. Self-harm behavior can be a symptom of several psychiatric illnesses: personality disorders (esp. borderline personality disorder); bipolar disorder (manic depression); major depression; anxiety disorders (esp. obsessive-compulsive disorder); as well as psychoses such as schizophrenia.
Evaluation. If someone displays the signs and symptoms of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted. An evaluation or assessment is the first step, followed by a recommended course of treatment to prevent the self-destructive cycle from continuing.
Treatment. Self-injury treatment options include outpatient therapy, partial (6-12 hours a day) and inpatient hospitalization. When the behaviors interfere with daily living, such as employment and relationships, and are health or life-threatening, a specialized self-injury hospital program with an experienced staff is recommended.
Know the warning signs:
Many cuts/burns on the wrists, arms, legs, back, hips, or stomach.
Wearing baggy or loose clothes (e.g., wearing hoodies or long sleeves during hot days to conceal the wounds).
Always making excuses for having cuts, marks or wounds on the body.
Finding razors, scissors, lighters or knives in strange places (i.e., the nightstand drawer or under the bed).
Spending long periods locked in a bedroom or bathroom.
Isolation and avoiding social situations.
Causes of Self Harm
Social factors and trauma. Difficult relationships. Difficulties at work or school. Alcohol or drug use or dual diagnosis issues. Sexual coming to terms with ones self. Coping in general and anxiety are major issues. The death of a loved one can be difficult, along with other types of grief. All of these are examples of possible causes of self harm. The self harm often serves as a distraction or way out from dealing with these life issues and the emotional distress they bring with them.
Research has shown that social factors commonly cause emotional distress in people who self-harm. These include:
The distress from a traumatic experience or an unhappy situation can lead to feelings of low self-esteem or self-hatred. You could also have feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness or isolation, hopelessness, numbness or emptiness and feeling unconnected to the world. The emotions can gradually build up, and one may not know who to turn to for help. Self-harm may be a way of releasing these pent-up feelings. It can be a way of coping with overwhelming emotional problems.
Self-harm, much like using drugs or substances, is also commonly linked to anxiety and depression. Getting to the root cause of the issues is where Pathways Treatment Centre steps in. We get to the root cause, and deal with the underlying issues that lead to the symptom of the self harm.
For help with alcohol issues please get in touch with Pathways and we will assist you with any questions and queries that you may have + 0044 533 0330