What is Self-injury?
Mental anguish can cause a multitude of reactions, some more complex than others. In an attempt to deal with their emotional conflicts, some hurting people turn on themselves and resort to self-injury in order to find relief. Rather than ending their own lives, these traumatized men and women begin to injure themselves as a mechanism to cope with their feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or remorse. Self-injury is more prevalent in society than most people realize; some 40% of college students may have participated in such behavior and close to 10% of them have hurt themselves more than 10 times.
Self-injury is a psychological impulse control disorder in which a person finds relief through mutilation of the body in some way. People with this disorder may cut or burn themselves because the pain involved in physically hurting themselves distracts them from the more intense experience of their emotional pain. Researchers have found that endorphins are released into the body after injuries of this type. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and provide an almost drug-like response, so that self-injury becomes an addictive behavior. Self-injury often accompanies other mental conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, schizophrenia, depression or borderline personality disorder.
Symptoms of Self-injury
Those with self-injury issues usually work hard to conceal their injuries from others. This makes it difficult for friends or relatives to grasp the immensity of their pain and the depth of their emotional difficulties. Some symptoms that may be visible to other people are the following:
- Scars on the body in places that are normally not commonly injured
- Wearing sleeves, pants, or longer skirts in hot weather or at times when these garments seem inappropriate
- Many fresh cuts or scratches or bandages on the skin
- Excessive bruising or broken bones
- Claims of being accident prone
People with a self-injury disorder may resort to any number of harmful behaviors to calm their mental agitation. These include biting, scratching, cutting, burning or piercing the skin to draw blood; injurious activities might consist of hitting, hair-pulling, head banging, or intentional poisoning. The ultimate goal of people with this disorder is not suicide, however; instead, they wish to cause the physical pain to themselves.
Causes of Self-injury
Just like many other psychological disorders, self-injury rarely has a single cause. While one event may trigger the start of these injurious behaviors, the underlying cause is an inability to deal with emotional pain in an appropriate manner. People who cause themselves pain may be trying to distract themselves from emotions that they have found no healthy way to control.
People who self-injure may also begin the injurious behavior in order to attract the attention of others as an indirect way of asking for help or to force others to a certain path of action. . Researchers agree that while there may be a genetic component to depression, self-injury is a behavior disorder unrelated to hereditary disposition.
Risk Factors for Self-injury
Statistically, certain people are more disposed to this psychological problem than others, but a self-injury disorder may strike with no apparent risk factors. The following factors are common to self-injurers:
Adolescence: Most self-injury patterns begin during this stressful time of life when teenagers are dealing with bodily changes, peer pressure, and parental control issues.
Peer Pressure: A person who has a close friend with a self-injury disorder has a much greater chance of developing such behaviors as well.
Past Trauma: If a person has been the victim of rape or other forms of sexual abuse, child abuse, or neglect, he or she may use injurious behavior to cope with the feelings engendered by the trauma.
Psychological issues: Many of those who begin self-injuring behavior have low self-esteem and impulse control problems. They lack the necessary skills to solve the problems that crop up in life and use pain to distract themselves from their troubles. Those who have other types of mental illness are especially vulnerable to self-injury. This includes those who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and depression.
Treatment Options for Self-injury
Unfortunately, it takes more than simple willpower to reduce the recurrent desire to injury oneself once this condition develops. This disorder is so serious that it takes time and expert medical attention in order to reach recovery. The medical community is continually searching for treatment combinations that will work to give self-injury victims relief. The following are just some of the treatment options currently available:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Doctors use this tool to teach self-injury patients new ways to deal with their emotions and handle their stress. This may include dialectical therapy which helps patients find new strategies for dealing with old problems, or psychodynamic therapy, to help patients understand the root causes of their pain.
Medications: No one medicine has proven to stop self-injurious behaviors; however, doctors may use antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs to relieve contributing mental conditions and give patients a greater chance to focus their energies on forming new behaviors.
Hospitalization or Residential Treatment: Inpatient hospitalization for concentrated psychiatric treatment often gives patients who self-injure the best chance for recovery. With the help of caring medical personnel, patients often respond to treatment more rapidly in this safer environment. The counseling provided lets patients vent their frustrations and find constructive ways to deal with emotional conflicts.
Day Treatment with Lifestyle Changes: Some patients are able to attend day treatment programs, but these must be accompanied by a few lifestyle changes. Patients who choose this option should commit themselves to being absolutely truthful with their doctors and treatment providers. They should take all medications just as they are prescribed and should attend all treatment sessions without fail. They should also promptly seek medical help for self-inflicted injuries that put them at risk for infection and report all injuries to medical personnel.
The following questions are often addressed to doctors who are treating patients with a self-injury disorder, and the answers are quite enlightening:
Are people who self-injure more likely to harm someone else?
Generally, people who self-injure are no more likely to harm others than the general population. They are only dealing with their own emotional anguish with a limited number of coping skills.
What are the negative effects of self-injury disorder?
Since most wounds heal, some people who suffer with self-injury disorder do not understand the grave impact this condition can have on their lives over time. Self-injury can increase feelings of guilt and shame, causing a person to withdraw from those who love them most. Infection is also a practical concern, especially if the instruments used for the mutilation of the body are not sterile. Scars can also lead to permanent disfigurement.
How long does treatment for self-injury disorder take?
Treatment plans for a self-injury disorder are personal and based on the needs of each individual. Some patients are able to modify behaviors very quickly and need only maintenance medications to prevent a recurrence. Others take years to work through their emotional trauma and suffer relapses in behavior for quite some time. No doctor can give a time-table for recovery to any one patient.
What can friends and relatives do to help someone with a self-injury disorder?
Friends and family cannot do the work necessary for a loved one to recover from a self-injury disorder, but they can make that recovery easier. The most important contribution they can make is to provide a non-judgmental atmosphere for the patient. Unconditional love, rather than criticism, is needed during the recovery process. Concerned family and friends may also want to become more actively involved in treatment by attending local support groups that have been established for those who care about those who suffer from self-injury disorder. This is a great place to gain more understanding of this condition and to find others who can empathize with the pain it causes.
Self-injury Residential Treatment at Bridges to Recovery
Most people with a self-injury disorder have tried unsuccessfully to overcome it. They begin each day assuring themselves that the harmful behaviors will stop, but the impulses are too great and the secrecy surrounding destructive behaviors keeps them from asking for help. By enrolling at a Bridges to Recovery Residential Treatment Center, patients are taking the first step to recovery by admitting they have a problem and seeking help with it.
Bridges to Recovery physicians and medical staff will patiently move those struggling with this issue toward recovery by providing physical and psychological support. The safe, reduced-stress environment at Bridges to Recovery allows patients to concentrate on getting better, without having to deal with the additional problems of daily living. Patients at Bridges to Recovery not only have time for their physical body to heal, but they have the ability to deal with emotional scars as well while surrounded by warm, compassionate staff members.