Self-inflicted violence or self-harm is most associated with individuals who engage in skin-cutting and are often diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, other forms of self-inflicted violence can include burning, scratching, banging or hitting body parts, interfering with wound healing, hair pulling, and the ingestion of toxic substances or objects. And other diagnoses can be associated with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
For the purposes of this article, I will not focus on the types of self-inflicted violence or any particular diagnosis or disorder, but reasons why people may engage in self-harming behaviors including some statistics on this dangerous behavior:
- Each year, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self injury
- 90 percent of people who engage in self harm begin during their teen or pre-adolescent years
- Nearly 50 percent of those who engage in self injury activities have been sexually abused
- Females comprise 60 percent of those who engage in self injurious behavior
- About 50 percent of those who engage in self mutilation begin around age 14 and carry on into their 20's
- Many of those who self injure report learning how to do so from friends or pro self-injurious websites
- Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the U.S.
Relief From Feelings
One of the most common reasons for self-injuring is to get relief from intense emotions. Many people who self-injure are not able to regulate or control their emotions well. They may find it difficult to identify, express, or release their emotions. They may never have developed the ability to feel and experience emotions as others do, such as crying, yelling, or screaming. People who engage in self-injury commonly report that before the incident they felt isolated, alienated, depressed, and frustrated. Thus, self-injury in this instance acts as a distraction from emotional feelings.
A Method of Coping
Many people use negative coping techniques to feel better. These include using alcohol or other drugs, violent behavior toward others, overeating, smoking, gambling, and self-inflicted violence. Although positive coping skills perhaps learned in counseling would be a much healthier way to deal with ones issues, many individuals look for a "guick fix" to assuage their problems.
Stopping, Inducing, or Preventing Dissociation
Dissociation is a psychological state in which a person experiences an alteration of consciousness, memory, and sometimes identity. Everyone dissociates to some extent, however, for most people it is fairly mild such as tuning out someone who is talking to you or daydreaming. Some people use dissociation as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from overwhelming emotion or physical pain. But these dissociative states themselves can be overwhelming in that it can block or separate someone from experiencing the here and now. Self-inflicted violence is one method to reduce, prevent, or end a disturbing dissociative state.