The Purpose Behind the Pain; Understanding Self – Injury

While the idea of using pain in order to provide a sense of relief might sound counterintuitive, all behavior serves a purpose.  Self-injury has been defined as the act of deliberately inflicting harm on oneself without the intention of dying. Statistics show that anywhere between 14 – 39 % of adolescents and 4% or more adults engage in some form of self-harm (Nock & Prinstein, 2005). Finding out that a friend or loved one is self-injuring can be a confusing and terrifying experience.  Those struggling with self-harm can feel isolated and misunderstood. Self-injury can best be thought of as a way to manage emotions that are too painful to express (Conterio, Lader, & Bloom, 1998).

What are the forms of self- harm?

Some forms include, but are not limited to, cutting, burning, scratching to excess, hair pulling, picking to excess, head banging, biting, and interfering with wound healing.

What are some of the warning signs?

Depending on the individual, self-injury can be quite noticeable or can be nearly impossible to detect. Typically the behavior will start with small injuries in more hidden areas, including arms and legs, and then progress in intensity and to more noticeable areas.

Some common warning signs include wearing long sleeves (especially in hot weather), increased isolation, and unexplained cuts, scars, or bruises.

Why?

Self-injury can serve many purposes. Frequently, the behavior is found in congruence with other issues including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.  For some, emotional pain and feelings can be so overwhelming that physical pain provides a sense of relief and control. Others may feel so detached and numb that pain provides a sense of feeling alive.  There are many functions of self-injury, and while these are only two examples, each individual’s experience is unique.

Resources

Balance Stress Management & Therapy offers a variety of resources. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is just one treatment intervention that offers a way to build insight into the feelings and thoughts that precipitate self-injury, and address ways to challenge negative thoughts that might be present. Therapy provides a supportive environment to develop a trusting relationship and help individuals begin to identify and practice healthy coping skills. If you or someone you know has been affected by self-injury, feel free to contact Balance and learn more about the services we offer.