Coping mechanisms range from healthy to risky to deadly. Self-harm is an unhealthy and dangerous way of dealing with emotional and psychological distress and involves the deliberate infliction of pain to the body.
The term self-harm or self-mutilation refers to cutting, scratching, burning and other injurious acts inflicted on the body. For example, burning may be done with lit matches, skin pierced with sharp objects and/or an individual may engage in punching, hitting or head banging.
The rate of self-harm is higher in females than it is in males and the behavior also tends to start at a younger age in girls and women.
Over 50% of individuals who commit suicide have a history of self-harm. Statistics show however that while a percentage of individuals who self-harm have a higher risk for suicide, many people who self-injure don’t wish to end their lives.
Researchers believe that self-harm is linked to various dynamics including the expression of distress, an attempt to relieve excruciating tension and a means of punishing oneself.
As such, self-harm is an unmistakable cry for help.
Self-harm can leave visible and permanent markings on the body, but such signs are not always evident as many individuals go to great lengths to conceal their bodies out of shame or in order to keep their actions from being discovered. For example, many cutters keep their arms covered in long sleeves even in hot weather. Additionally, individuals usually self-injure in private.
While any part of the body may be targeted for self-injury, the arms, legs, and torso are the main areas of self-harm and people may use more than one method to disfigure themselves.
Self-harm is more common than many people realize, especially among young people. It’s estimated that roughly one in ten younger people engages in self-harm, although people of all ages can and do engage in self-injurious behavior.
If you think that a loved one may be self-harming, it’s important to broach the topic with sensitivity and understanding.
Here are some of the signs and signals someone may be intentionally harming themselves:
- Inexplicable cuts, burns or bruises on the skin, often on the arms
- Scars alongside new cuts, burns, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
- Keeping sharp objects on hand
- Unexplained hair loss due to intentionally pulling it out
- Behavioral and emotional impulsivity
- Excessive rubbing of the skin to create a burn
- Repeated reports of accidental injury
- Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Keeping the body concealed at all times, regardless of temperature
- Signs of low self-esteem, e.g. self-blame or continually putting themselves down
- Depressive symptoms, e.g. lack of motivation or interest in life, and low mood
- Expressing the desire to harm or punish themselves
- Becoming withdrawn and isolating from others
Research shows that the majority of individuals who self-harm do so as a means of coping with tremendously painful emotional issues that can be tied to physical, social or psychological trauma.
Social issues that precipitate self-harm can range from bullying, problems at school or work and contentious interpersonal and family relationships.
Studies show that borderline personality disorder is associated with an increased risk of self-harm as is dissociation which is characterized by losing one’s sense of self and/or losing a sense of being rooted in one’s environment. Experts have also linked self-harm to feelings of depression and anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other traumatic events that can lead to self-harm include instances of sexual or physical abuse and the loss of significant relationships and loved ones.
In cases where these issues go unresolved intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, self-hatred and guilt can all lead to seeking to release the pain via self-injury especially in instances where impaired coping skills exist.
Self-harm is characterized by difficulty with managing, expressing or comprehending emotion and the mix of emotions that precedes self-harm can be a complex mixture of overwhelming feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness, panic, anger, loneliness, rejection and/or guilt.
People who injure themselves often report feeling a temporary sense of calm and release of tension following self-harm. This is because self-injury provides a physical (albeit painful) sensory distraction from an immediate and overwhelming emotional pain. The act of self-harm also allows an individual to feel a sense of control in the midst of feeling out of control.
And, it may seem ironic, but many individuals say they self-harm in order to feel something — even physical pain versus feeling psychological pain. In this way, the heightened and unwelcome inner turmoil is expressed externally, sometimes in an effort to communicate the need for help to the outside world.
What are the risk factors for self-injurious behavior? As we mentioned above, females are at higher risk than their male counterparts and the majority of self-reported cases are among teens and young adults.
Studies show that having friends who self-harm is also a risk factor as are serious, consequential life issues such as childhood neglect and sexual, emotional or physical abuse. Social isolation and questioning one’s sexuality or personal identity may also precede instances of self-harm.
Experts believe that individuals who self-harm are more likely to be very self-critical, possess impaired problem-solving skills and misuse drugs or alcohol.
If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm, even in what may appear to be a minor way, or if you know that thoughts of harm are present, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Addressing the issue can help you or your loved one take the first steps to successful treatment and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Lifelong recovery is possible: all you need to do is reach out. Starbent Recovery was founded on the belief that people suffering from addictive disorders, trauma, and other co-occurring issues can thrive in the right environment.
Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. We offer individualized tier level programs and guidance with residents’ personal recovery and independent living goals.
Our safe, peer residence offers luxury amenities and is located in the heart of upscale Tribeca close to multiple subway lines and surrounded by trendy dining and shopping.
To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.