Debunking myths about self-injury
Posted by mandyf on June 2, 2012
Self-injury (SI) is a behavior that is riddled with myths that tend put a false spin on not just the people who turn to this as a coping mechanism, but also what self-injury itself is. Self-injury may also be known as self-harm or self-mutilation, although self mutilation is a term that most self-injurers seem to take offense with. Whatever the reason a person has for becoming a self-injurer won’t be the focal point of this article, but rather how the public has often been given poor or outright false information which makes this growing epidemic even more disturbing.
The first thing that must be examined is the intention of the self-injurer. A person that self-injures is not trying to kill them self, in fact some self-injurers claim that the behavior actually keeps them from committing suicide by providing a needed release which gives them time to reassess the situation and act more rationally. Self-injurers may have many different reasons they cite for their behavior, however death is not one of them.
People that indulge in behaviors usually regarded as self-injury for the purpose of some form of body art or modification are not self injurers. While it may seem a little radical, there are people that do find rather odd and even unsightly things attractive, or feel they make them look distinctive in some way. Some just do this type of thing to be trendy as odd as it may sound. This an entirely different issue from SI. People that for lack of better word modify their body in any number of ways (Even the removal of a limb) are doing so for a reason other than those that would be associated to SI, and is again, an entirely different issue.
Self Injury is not about seeking sexual gratification, that is classified as a fetish. While sexual gratification also provides a release, people that self injure to heighten their experience or because they have to in order to reach climax are a horse of a different color all together.
Some people will self-injure as a means of trying to reach spiritual enlightenment, or to feel they are suffering for their creator as a means of satisfying or showing respect to that deity. When this type of ritualistic behavior is taking place it is again for a reason wholly unrelated to that which is associated to the typical SI profile. An example of this would be those who self-flagellate, bind with various forms of cuffs which are designed to cut and aggravate the tissue, or castrate them self (Men as well as women removing the clitoris) to reach some form of spiritual purity.
Self-injurers do not intend any permanent damage to them self. Their main objective would generally be described as seeking tissue damage. Although due to such complications as infection or cutting too deeply permanent damage may accidentally be realized. Also if a person were to “use” the same area too often permanent scarring is also a very likely possibility.
Self-injury is not just a phenomena that teenage girls in North America take part in. Self-injury is a problem around the world which crosses all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries. Men and women of all ages can fall into the pattern of SI as it is an epidemic which does not discriminate. While teenage girls are statistically more likely to be self-injurers, they are not the only ones.
Self-injury is an addictive behavior, not a one time event. Most people that self-injure a second time will continue to self-injure until they have received help or a change in their life occurs which makes the need for SI unnecessary. Even with this change however, without professional help most self injurers will revert to SI as a coping mechanism the next time something they can not deal with arises. Furthermore the release of endorphins can be an incredibly difficult thing for people to give up, which adds to making the behavior so addictive rather than something isolated or temporary.
Self-injury is not a rarity, in fact it is estimated that somewhere in the area of 10%-25% of teens have at some time turned to SI as a coping mechanism. Furthermore it is believed that a little over 1% of the world population self injures. While 1% may not sound like much, in term of a global community that is a very large number of people.
A person that self-injures is not crazy. Like any other condition, there will be people who are suffering from serious psychological problems engaging in SI, however this does not make a person mentally unstable. It is generally a means of dealing with an overwhelming emotion or loss of control which drives a person to SI, something we have all felt at some time. The difference is a self-injurer sees the behavior as a way to get beyond that while most people don’t.
Self-injury does not solve problems. Self injury is at best a temporary distraction which masks the larger issue which needs to be dealt with.
Self-injurers pose no threat to others. SI is an act of greed in that it is all about the individual and their immediate needs. They do not intend to hurt anyone else in any way. SI is about control of oneself, not others, except in a small sampling of cases when the threat of SI is used to manipulate another.
There is nothing a person without specialized training can do to help a self-injurer is another colossal myth. Often just being available and willing to listen to an SI sufferer is more than enough to help. While professional help should be sought, being a good friend or family member willing to listen to their concerns is often enough to get past the crisis at hand.
In short their are many misunderstandings about the SI phenomena which are easily dispelled. Self -injurers are for the most part regular people you run into everyday, perhaps a family member or even you. The key to lessening the incidence of SI is understanding it so when the feelings of the need to do so arise in you or someone you know it can be dealt with in a healthier manner.