Self injury is thought of as people hurting their bodies in ways that are not socially acceptable. These include people cutting, burning, hitting, picking, biting, scratching, tearing or piercing their skin, using harmful substances on their skin, banging their heads, pulling or plucking their hair, picking at their cuticles or nails until they bleed and other related behaviors. Self injury generally does not include self chosen changes to the body that are culturally appropriate such as tattoos, ear piercing, cosmetic surgery and ceremonial or initiation scarring.
Why people self injure is not altogether clear, although most experts agree that self injury (also known as self-inflicted violence or self harm) is used as a method of coping and tends to make life more tolerable temporarily. Self injury as a form of coping can be compared to other maladaptive coping strategies such as alcohol abuse or eating disorders. Those who were not exposed to healthy ways to deal with emotion early in their lives often develop methods of their own, sometimes unhealthy ones such as self injury.
Like all maladaptive coping mechanisms, self injury can be successfully treated by experienced professionals either on an outpatient or inpatient basis. This involves replacing the harmful behaviors with healthy ones while learning to express and experience emotions.
If you or someone you know uses self injury to cope with life’s stresses and personal emotions, there is help. Contact the Allegheny College Counseling Center at 814-332-4368 for an appointment or contact one of the off campus mental health providers.
For more information, visit one of these web sites:
or read one of these books:
- A Bright Red Scream: Self Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong
- Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers by Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader
Information adapted from S.A.F.E. Alternatives Program, Form 022.1/2, Conterio and Lader; Understanding Self Injury: A Workbook for Adults, PAAR, Trautmann and Connors, 1994; Self Inflicted Violence: Helping Those Who Hurt Themselves,http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/depress/violence, 10/2004