Self-harm, self-injury or self-mutilation is the act of purposely causing physical injury to oneself without suicidal intent.
Self-harm is a coping mechanism used by some as a way to cope with emotionally distressing thoughts, experiences or feelings. It offers temporary relief and a release of tension, instigated by chemical changes within the body as a result of the self-inflicted injury.
Key Components To Identify Self-Harm
- Self-harm is done to yourself. Lashing out at others is not self-harm.
- Self-harm is done to yourself. Anything someone else does to you that causes physical pain is not self-harm.
- Self-harm must include physical harm. Hurting yourself emotionally with self-talk is not self-harm.
- Self-harm is not done with suicidal intent.
- Self-harm is done intentionally, not accidentally.
Categories of Self-Harm
Self-harm is usually split into 3 distinct categories.
Psychotic Self-Harm includes the removal or amputation of body parts (eyes, limbs, ears, genitals, digits). These are usually done in response to hallucinations bought on by psychosis. It is the most severe of all the self-harm categories.
Organic Self-Harm usually occurs in people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, developmental disabilities, and other similar disorders. Physical or chemical issues in the body influence this form of self-harm.
Organic Self-Harm includes head-banging and lip-biting.
Typical Self-Harm is instigated by emotional or psychological trauma not related to psychotic or organic conditions. This category is the most common of all people who self-harm.
This form of self-harm includes cutting, burning, hair-pulling (Trichotillomania), skin-picking (Dermotillomania), biting, hitting, interference with wound healing, scratching or bone-breaking.
Reasons for Self-Harm
People self-harm for a variety of reasons. It is a coping mechanism, offers relief from distressing emotions or feelings, induces euphoria, physical expression of emotional pain, communication, self punishment, regaining control, or to reenact previous abuse.
Self-harm can also stop, induce or prevent dissociation ("a psychological state in which the individual experiences an alteration in consciousness, memory, and sometimes identity").
As A Symptom
Self-harm is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder and depressive disorders. It is associated with mental illness, a history of trauma or abuse (including sexual, emotional or physical abuse), eating disorders and low self esteem.
Psychologists and psychiatrists often choose to treat the disorder itself, rather than the symptom (self-harm).
Treatment options include medication, counseling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
There is a lot that a person can do to help themselves stop self harming. First, you need to acknowledge that a problem exists and realize that it does not make you a bad person. You may need to turn to someone you trust for support or you may need professional help. Recognize your triggers, and learn ways to self-soothe. Lastly, you must uncover what function your self-harm is serving, and find alternatives to that behavior.
If you self-harm to deal with anger you could go for a run, scream out your frustration, punch a pillow, start going to the gym or take up a new sport.
If you self-harm to feel something other than numb inside you could try holding ice cubes tightly in your hand, take a cold shower, eat something with a very strong taste (chilli, ginger, citrus fruits) or snap a rubber band on your wrist.
If you self-harm to calm yourself down you could try deep breathing, taking a warm bath, writing, drawing or listening to soothing music.
If you self-harm to see blood you can try drawing "cuts" on yourself with red ink, or try some other alternatives that were listed above.
Body Modification and Self-Harm
Body modification is generally not self-harm, as the motivations are often quite different.
Body modification is often used to change a person's appearance to make their body look "better" or more aesthetically pleasing. Self-harm is rarely done for this purpose.
Self-harm is an action done to yourself, while body modification is usually done by someone else (piercer, artist, practitioner, etc).
Ritual mutilation is done to alter a person's body for society, religion or a peer group. Examples include genital mutilation, ritual tattooing, scarification (including cutting and branding), body piercing (and stretching said piercings) and other similar practices that are carried out by tribal people.
"Rituals are distinguished from practices in that they reflect community tradition, usually have deep underlying symbolism, and represent a way for an individual to connect to the community. Rituals are done for purposes of healing (mostly in primitive cultures), expressions of spirituality and spiritual enlightenment, and to mark place in the social order. Practices, on the other hand, have little underlying meaning to the practitioners and are sometimes fads. Practices are done for purposes of ornamentation, showing identification with a particular cultural group, and in some cases, for perceived medical/hygienic reasons."
- AusHaven: Support for those affected by mental illness
- Safe Haven
- Self Injury and Related Issues (SIARI)
- American Self-Harm Information Clearinghouse (ASHIC)
- CoolNurse: Self Injury
- Self Abuse Finally Ends (SAFE)