Self-injury, self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behavior, or self-mutilation is defined as a deliberate, intentional injury to one’s own body that causes tissue damage or leaves marks for more than a few minutes which is done to cope with an overwhelming or distressing situation. Statistics show that self-harm is more common amongst girls who begin this addiction in their early teens and may continue into their adulthood. But there are guys that have been known to inflict self-injury.
Most people who self-injure tend to be perfectionists are unable to handle intense feelings, are unable to express their emotions verbally, have dislike for themselves and their bodies, and can experience severe mood swings. They may turn to self-injury as a way to express their feelings and emotions or as a way to punish themselves. Many have a history of sexual or physical abuse and find these means of coping with it are easier than dealing with the pain of emotion. Some come from broken homes, alcoholic families, etc. as well.
There are three types of self-injury. The rarest and most extreme form is Major self-mutilation. This form usually results in permanent disfigurement, i.e. castration or limb amputation. Another form is Stereotypical self-mutilation which usually consists of head banging, eyeball pressing, and biting. The third and most common form is Superficial self-mutilation which usually involves cutting, burning, hair-pulling, bone breaking, hitting, interference with wound healing, and any other method used to harm oneself.
Common Ways of Self-injury
This type of self-injury involves making cuts or scratches on your body with any sharp object including knives, needles, razor blades, or even fingernails. The arms, legs, and front of the torso are most commonly cut because they are easily reached and easily hidden under clothing.
Cutting can be habit forming. It can become a compulsive behavior — meaning that the more a person does it, the more he or she feels the need to do it. The brain starts to connect the false sense of relief from bad feelings to the act of cutting, and it craves this relief the next time tension builds. When cutting becomes a compulsive behavior, it can seem impossible to stop. It’s easy to see how cutting can become an addiction, where the urge to cut can seem too hard to resist. A behavior that starts as an attempt to feel more in control can end up controlling you.
This is an impulse control disorder which at times seems to resemble a habit, an addiction, or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The person has an irresistible urge to pull out hair from any part of their body. Hair pulling from the scalp often leaves patchy bald spots on their head which they hide by wearing hats, scarves, and wigs. Abnormal levels of serotonin or dopamine may play a role in this disorder.
The combined treatment of using an anti-depressant such as Anafranil and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been effective in treating this disorder. CBT teaches you to become more aware of when you’re pulling, helps you identify your pulling habits, and teaches you about what emotions and triggers are involved in hair pulling. When you gain awareness of pulling, you can learn to substitute healthier behaviors instead.
- Branding – burning self with a hot object
- Friction burn – rubbing a pencil eraser on your skin
- Picking at skin or re-opening wounds (dermatillomania) – an impulse control disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pick at one’s own skin, often to the extent that damage is caused which relieves stress or is gratifying
- Many compulsive skin picking causes are emotional or mental. Emotional trauma can lead to feelings of helplessness and insecurity. When a child is being traumatized and bullied, he or she loses the feeling of being in control of their environment.
- Hitting (with a hammer or another object)
- Bone breaking
- Head-banging (more often seen with autism or severe mental retardation)
- Multiple piercing or tattooing – may also be a type of self-injury, especially if pain or stress relief is a factor
- Drinking harmful chemicals