Tuesday, January 31, 2012


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Self injury

When most people face stress, they talk to a friend or squeeze a stress ball. However, when a small number of people feel that their life is getting them down, they revert to dangerous behaviors in order to alleviate the feelings they are experiencing. These people, when under stress, may revert to cutting themselves, burning their skin, or engaging in other behaviors that cause themselves physical harm. Because other people view such behaviors as being very extreme, they may feel that the people who do them are merely trying to attract attention to themselves. However, when a person purposefully injures themselves, they are not attracting attention but instead are suffering from a disorder known as self injury.

Self injury is defined as a variety of behaviors, “resulting in the destruction of one’s own tissue. These behaviors, including scratching, burning or cutting the skin, pulling out hair, breaking bones, amputation, and eye enucleation, can have a likewise variable assortment of causes” (“Definition” 1). Because of the wide range of self injuring behaviors, scientists have come up with three major categories in order to classify them. These categories are based upon “the degree of harm, the rate, and the pattern of behavior.” The categories are major, stereotypic, and superficial self mutilation (1). Major self mutilation include “acts that severely damage a significant amount of body tissue. These are injuries that can only be inflicted once, such as eye enucleation, facial skinning, amputation of the limbs, breasts or genitals.” People who engage in major self mutilation often have other disorders which cause them to recede into a “zombie-like” state that enables them not to feel the pain of such drastic injuries (“Definition“ ). Stereotypic self mutilation describes “repetitive, sometimes rhythmic, acts, the most common form being head-banging. Other forms include orifice digging, hitting, throat and eye gouging (though usually not eye enucleation)...hair pulling, and self-biting.” The last type of self mutilation is superficial self mutilation. This category describes behaviors most commonly observed in people who self injure (). Superficial self harm is divided into three subcategories, compulsive, episodic, and repetitive (). A person who compulsively harms himself “unconsciously pulls out his own hair or picks at her skin.” People who engage in compulsive self mutilation harm themselves in a ritualistic way that is similar to the rituals in which a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders engages (). People suffering from the second subcategory of superficial self injury, episodic self harm, deliberately cut themselves, burn their skin, and prick themselves with needles. This type of behavior is what most people commonly think of when they hear the phrase “self injury” (). People who engage in cutting or burning are often ashamed of their scars and hide them. Unlike the episodic self harmer, a person who engage in repetitive self harm harms himself on a regular basis and “with a sense of ceremony.” Other than this fact, the behaviors of the repetitive self harmer are the same as the ones of the episodic self harmer. In fact, a person can easily shift from being an episodic self harmer into a repetitive one if he self harms regularly and becomes addicted to the feeling ().

The reasons for which people deliberately injure themselves range far and wide. Major self mutilators have mental disorders that make them unable to feel the pain of what they are doing. These mental disorders include “mental retardation, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.” A person under the influence of drugs or alcohol can also demonstrate major self harm with no apparent feeling of pain or distress (“Definition“ ). Stereotypic self mutilators are often mentally retarded and have other disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and tourette’s syndrome. These disorders make stereotypic self mutilators unaware of their self injuring acts and unable to identify a specific cause for the occasion. The main difference between stereotypical and superficial self harm is the fact that superficial self harmers can often pinpoint a cause for their acts, while stereotypical harmers cannot (“Definition“ ).

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Acts of superficial self harm are often triggered by an event or series of events in a person’s life. Superficial self injury can be a result of previously experienced abuse or neglect. People who self harm in this way often appear to be normal, but they deal with their problems in a more harmful manner than most people do. Superficial self harmers often injure themselves to find “relief from overwhelming emotions.” People who injure themselves for this reason usually “have never developed the ability to feel and express emotions as others do. They may not have been allowed to show or release their true emotions. Yet their feelings still exist, whether they show them or not. They may have adopted self injury as a strategy for getting relief from these intense feelings” (“ Understanding” 1). Another popular motive for self injury is the “physical expression of emotional pain.” People who self injure “speak of their wounds and their scars as being a way to see the pain they feel inside. That by causing these injuries they are bringing out their pain to be seen and perhaps healed” (“Understanding” 1). It is often easier to feel

physical pain and deal with it than emotional pain. Others self injure because they feel that they are bad and punish themselves by cutting their skin. People who self injure for this reason feel that having feelings of anger or sadness means that they are weak and in need of punishment (“Understanding”1-). However, self injuring behaviors can be misinterpreted as suicidal behaviors. In contrast to this belief, self injury is actually the means by which a person takes to prevent himself from suicide. By cutting himself, the person releases the feelings inside that may make him want to commit suicide. Self injury eventually becomes a means to survive, and because of this, it is an extremely addicting behavior (“Understanding“ ).

Self injury can result in bruises and deep cuts, burns, and lasting scars in places in which it is difficult to cut or burn by accident. In cases of superficial self injury, wounds are relatively easy to hide and make excuses about. Most people who self injure will write off their injuries as mere accidents such as burning one’s hand while doing the cooking or being scratched by a household pet. Because self injurers make such good excuses for their wounds, it is very difficult to determine if a person deliberately hurts himself or is hurt on accident. However, because the person has to cut deeper each time in order to feel the way he did the previous time, most self injurers are eventually found out. A person who self injures can also become very socially withdrawn and depressed (“SI Discussed” 1).

The most obvious mental effect of self injury is depression. Depression causes people to self harm, self harming causes the person to be depressed all over again. The struggle the person has to face with depression turns into a vicious cycle of self injury. Self injury can also lead to feelings of guilt and guilt can lead to a feeling of worthlessness. If a person feels worthless, then he feels a need to punish himself for his worthlessness. This also leads to a cycle of self injury in order for the person to punish himself for all the things he feels he has done wrong in his life. The mental effects of self injury form a cycle which leads back to self injuring behaviors again and again, causing the person to injure himself more and more in order to escape from the growing depression he feels (“SI Discussed” 1-).

The society does not accept people who purposefully self mutilate in a way that does not enhance their beauty, such as “ear piercing, eyebrow plucking, and small tatoos,” which are “beauty enhancing and socially meaningful” (“Motivation” 1). Because the society shuns people who harm themselves, only a small number of people who self mutilate eventually receive the help they need. Furthermore, some doctors do not treat people with self inflicted wounds because “they are not as deserving of care as someone who has an accidental injury.” Self injurers are often ashamed to admit their problems because they are afraid of appearing “different“, or even “crazy.” Those who self injure are often ostracized due to their disease...those who self injure also tend to not confide in people for fear that the other person will view them negatively”(“Why Do People Self Injure” 1). Many people with self injuring behaviors are not diagnosed correctly and give the help they need, “doctors will sometimes believe that self injury is actually another disease. The results of such diagnoses could have adverse effects on the person who self mutilates” (Green 1-). Because most people cannot understand why a person will deliberately hurt themselves, they often think that people who self injure are “freaks.” The stigma surrounding the issue of self harm often causes people who self injure “to hide scars, blood or other evidence of the acts of self harm” in order to be accepted by society (). These acts can lead to the person not wanting to get help for the disorder until it is too late. The depression which envelops a person with self injuring behaviors can cause them to withdraw from society into self induced isolation (1-).

The tendency to self injure can be treated by using “a combination of psychotherapy and possibly medication” in order to “identify the feelings and emotions associated with self mutilation” (“Treatment” 1). There are many alternative behaviors that are a more positive response to adverse emotions than cutting or burning oneself. Certain medications “that alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and sleep impairment” can be used to reduce the tendency to self mutilate (“Treatment“ 1-). People who self mutilate often do not have enough serotonin, a chemical that makes a person feel happy and positive, and medicines that release serotonin can sometimes work in treating this disorder. Besides medication, there are also programs that unite people who wish to stop injuring themselves in order to achieve that end. A person who wishes to stop self mutilating can also obtain self help by buying books that put them through a series of exercises, “the books involve writing exercises that help them understand why they injure themselves and the results of their behavior, such as scarring and social isolation” (“Treatment” 1). It takes a great deal of work on the part of the person who wishes to help himself overcome the urge to self injure because different people injure for different reasons. It is necessary for the person to have a drive to get better and to experiment to find a combination of methods that work best. Some methods that have been suggested include relaxation techniques, listening to music, writing in a journal, stabbing at a piece of wood, holding ice, and drawing pictures. There is no miracle cure for self injury, and whether a person succeeds in overcoming it or not depends on the degree of his perseverance (“Self Injury“).

Because of the stigma surrounding self injuring behaviors, there is not much new research that is being done in this area. The most effective group of medications have been found to be “a group of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s)” (“Healing”). Studies with these medications have been done upon small samples with a reasonable level of success. However, self injury is not a disorder that can be cured by medication alone. In certain cases, medication may help individuals, but self injury is treated greatly as a behavioral disorder rather than a mental disorder. Self injury is only treated as a mental disorder if it does not fall in the superficial category or is caused by a genuine mental disorder, such as schizophrenia. Most of the time, therapists work to help self injurers to change themselves behaviorally, rather than to burden sufferers with different medications (“Healing“).

Most people think that people who injure themselves deliberately are either extremely dumb or seeking attention. However, self injury is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. In reality, people who self injure feel that they have no other way in which to express the emotions they are feeling. For them, the only way in which to express what they feel is to abuse themselves. Such people are not stupid or looking for attention. Instead, they are using the only way they can in order to deal with life and to survive in a world that seems to be against their very existence.

Works Cited

“Definition.” Date unknown. http//wso.williams.edu/~atimofey/self_mutilation (Dec.16, 00).

Green, Joy. “Living On The Edge.” Oct. 17. The North Star Online. http//www.cyc-

net.org/reference/refs-self-mutilation-green.html (Dec. 16, 00).

“Healing The Scars Within Treatment.” Date unknown. http//secretsswollen.tripod.com/treatmentframe.html (Dec. 16, 00).

“The In thing to do?- SI Discussed.” Date unknown. http//secretpain.netfirms.com

/introduction.html (Dec.16, 00).

“Motivation.” Date unknown. http//wso.williams.edu/~atimofey/motivation/

index.html (Dec. 16, 00).

Thompson, Colleen. “Self Injury.” Dec. , 00. http//www.mirror- mirror.org/selfinj.htm (Dec. 16, 00).

“Treatment.” Date unknown. http//wso.william.edu/~atimofey/treatment/in

dex.html (Dec. 16, 00).

“Why Do People Self Injure?” Date unknown. http//www.healthyplace.com/communi

ities/self_injury/bloodred/why (Dec. 16, 00).

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