One of the most common symptoms, why people come for individual counseling, is some form of self-injurious behavior. Unfortunately, people do not always recognize it as such and tend to minimize or rationalize the severity of their actions. My hope today is to shed some light on the various forms of self-injurious behaviors plus some of the underlying problems that people, who self injure, face.

Self-injurous Behavior-2Not only adolescent girls self harm

Self-injury is most commonly recognized by parents of adolescent girls, who cut. As a parent, knowing that your child is actively trying to hurt themselves can be a terrifying experience. Self-injurious behavior, however, is not only limited to teenagers. Adults also engage in forms of self harm, some of which are more subtle than others.

Types of self-injurious behavior:

Cutting is the most common form of self-injury among adolescents but there are others:

  • scratching
  • burning
  • pulling ones eyelashes or hair (trichotilomania)
  • obsessive picking on wounds (dermatillomania)
  • drinking excessively or using drugs
  • engaging in promiscuous or risky sexual behavior
  • putting oneself in dangerous situations such as reckless driving
  • getting into fights or engaging in criminal activity
  • suicidal attempt is the most drastic form of self-injury and naturally, the scariest.

Most self-injurious behaviors are non-suicidal 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. The good news is that the majority of self-injurious behavior is non-suicidal. In fact, it is rare for someone, who cuts, scratches or burns to attempt suicide.

Self harm is an attempt to cope

It may sound counter intuitive but self-harming behavior is an attempt to cope. Granted, not a very healthy coping mechanism but a coping mechanism nonetheless. When people have no other way to process their experiences, acting them out in various forms of self-injurious behaviors is often a way to speak without words.

Underlying problems of self-injury

Every person is unique and there may be a variety of reasons why someone resorts to self-injury. Some underlying reasons for self-injury include:

  • anxiety,
  • aggression turned towards the self,
  • low-self esteem,
  • major depressive disorder
  • a way to cope with an overwhelming affect,
  • emotional numbness or
  • an attempt to feel something when all feelings are dissociated due to
  • trauma or abuse;
  • an attempt to communicate when something is going terribly wrong but words are out of reach,
  • difficult or rocky relationships with loved ones – if I had to pick a number one reason why people self-injure, I would probably put my money on this one…

Do you or a loved one self harm without knowing it? Share your experience in the comments below.

Want to take things are step further? I would love to hear from you.

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