By Maria Luciani, LCSW
Self-injury is more than ever a common concern among adolescents, parents, school faculty, and mental health professionals. Self-harm is intentional physical injury done to oneself based on an uncomfortable psychological state. Types of self-injury include such behaviors as cutting, skin scratching, head banging, and skin burning. The most common form of self-injury is cutting. Discovering that a loved one is hurting his or her body is typically confusing, disorienting, and scary. Upon discovery, friends and families are plagued with the question of why and want to know what can be done to stop self-inflicted injuries from continuing.
Increasing in popularity among adolescents and females, there are several aspects to self-injury that are significant in its presentation. It can serve as a way of causing physical pain to distract from overwhelming emotions or provide an experience of feeling something for those disconnected from their emotions. Due to the fact that cutting and other self-injurious actions are beyond the norm of behaviors to cope with mental or emotional problems, there is often great secrecy involved. Furthermore, research indicates that there is a contagious nature to self-harm, especially cutting, where people are at increased risk if they know others who utilize such behaviors to cope. Another concerning aspect to self-injury is that it can become an addiction where the frequency and severity can increase over time.
While difficult to distinguish self-injurious behaviors and suicidal intent, it is important to remember that self-harm does not always mean a person wants to end their life. It often indicates a high level of psychological distress. Individual or family therapy treatment is needed to address underlying issues that lead to these behaviors. Please consult a licensed mental health professional if self-harm is impacting you or a loved one.
Klonsky, E. D. (2006). The functions of deliberate self-injury: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 226-239.
Strong, M. (1998). A Bright Red Scream: Self mutilation and the language of pain.