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Why Do I Keep on Physically Hurting My Body? A Look at Self Injury

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Self-mutilation related image Photo: Getty Images

There are, unfortunately, some people who deliberately harm their own bodies. Self injury is not intended to be a suicide attempt but rather a detrimental means to cope with emotional pain, anger, frustration or hopelessness. Self injury brings a transient sense of calm and a release of stress but this is soon followed by guilt, humiliation and going back to the same agonizing emotions. Self injury usually starts as minor injuries but can lead to severe disfigurement.

Self injury is felt to be an impulsive behavior problem but may be associated with depression, an eating disorder (bulimia) and borderline personality. Individuals who self injure may have a variety of symptoms including physical scars, scratches, broken bones, being lonely, having difficulty with interpersonal relationship, wearing long sleeved garments even in hot weather or blaming the injury on others. Self injury is not only cutting oneself but may involve piercing the skin, breaking bones, head banging, biting, pulling out hair and making the wounds worse by probing.

Self injury is rarely a one-time episode and for some people it is a repetitive behavior that is often impulsive. Like most things in psychiatry, the cause of self injury is a mystery. Some people simply are not able to cope with their emotions and find self injury one way to relieve the psychological pain. It is believed that the physical injury distracts the individual from the painful emotions. Some people self injure their bodies to chastise themselves for alleged faults, and in others self injury may be a way of manipulation or getting attention.

Besides the direct physical injury to the body, this behavior also has other complications including accidental suicide, permanent scars, disfigurement or worsening of shame and guilt. The number of people who self injure themselves remains unknown but the disorder appears to be slightly more common in women. The disorder tends to peak in the second or third decade of life.

Self injury is a very difficult disorder to treat. There is no one treatment for everyone. The treatment is usually long-term psychotherapy, which can help one learn skills to manage stress control emotions, enhance a better body image, and develop a healthy lifestyle.

There are no drugs to treat self injury but sometimes anti depressants may be prescribed to improve depression, reduce anxiety or control the impulse behavior. Depending on the degree of injury, one may even need hospitalization. Because of the seriousness of the problem, there are national hotlines where one can call for immediate help. The national suicide prevention lifeline (800- 273-8255) is available 24 hours a day. For people who have this problem, it is recommended that they try to reach out to their family and friends for support. Try to enroll in a support group and do not underestimate your ability to change. Avoid abuse of drugs and alcohol and get to know more about your medical illness. Unfortunately there is no way to prevent this behavior. For people who have no mental health disorder and injure themselves, the prognosis is good but for those who have other mental health problems, the prognosis is poor.


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EmpowHER Guest

There's a terrific book everyone should share with their parents, friends, and age-appropriate children: "Cut", an intense and realistic account of cutting, treatment, and other disorders. It's by Patricia McCormick and it's the only book of its kind I've seen that deals with these issues in an informational and teen-friendly way. Highly recommended.

January 17, 2011 - 11:41am
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