Why do people
Self-Injury to someone looking from the outside not only appears like an
irrational action, and an almost incomprehensible thought; but is also a
subject which has much taboo around it and thus information targeted at
layman is few and far between. I intend to therefore detail the reasons
why people partake in self injurious behaviour, and some of the
similarities between those who self injure.
Self-Injure, not an isolated issue
Contrary to popular belief, self injury isn’t a problem affecting only
teenage girls. This is one of the main misconceptions which lead to
further invalidation of those who self injure. Statistics of self injury
are unreliable because many incidents go unrecorded, and many suffer
without seeking available help. Approximately 100,000 people per year are
admitted to hospitals in England or Wales following deliberate self-harm;
most of which is drug overdoses or self-injury, and of that number 19,000
of which are young people. Self injury is twice as prevalent in women, as
it is in men. Whilst these figures are not of direct relation to the topic
of why people engage in the act of self injury, it allows a perspective to
be taken when reading.
Self Injure, why?
The reasons why people engage in the act of self injury can be grouped
loosely into three categories:
As a release of existing feelings and to returning the body back to a
state of equilibrium and normality. It is used to validate feelings, and
as a way of easing inner turmoil, in the attempt to aid survival and avoid
Another reason for self injury is to act as a way to communicate with
people. This is by expressing feelings which otherwise the injurer keeps
locked up inside.
The final category of reasoning behind self injury; is to act as a way to
find control, or punishment to the individual.
Details of particular reasons
As previously mentioned, the reasons for self injury can be somewhat
loosely grouped into categories. These categories however have grey areas,
and are much more complex than the above definitions lead you to believe;
after all, the subject of self injury is a person and they are complex
The reasons which pertain to the release of emotions, includes the likes
of trying to obtain a sense of grounding and reality following a
disassociative (where, in layman terms you loose touch with reality and
have no grounding on the here and now) episode, validation of inner
emotions and pain; and in relation to the last one, in a way to prevent
suicide by easing current pain. Self Injury is often the healthiest option
to someone who only knows a limited amount of coping mechanisms and is
therefore using the most life-preserving choice they know. As an expansion
upon the reason behind self injuring following a feeling of lack of
grounding; this would sit congruently with the condition of Alexithymia
which is where a person is unaware of their feelings. This would be in
agreement with what self injurers say, when they state how they are unable
to say what they’re feeling before or during the act, and thus use an
outward expression in order to both remove this numbness, and try and make
others feel the inner turmoil which they suffer.
Reasons which relate to self injuring as an act of communication, is in a
way that someone self injures because they’re trying to get a need met.
This is why the act is often seen as manipulative or ‘attention
seeking’ when actually this isn’t the reason nor the motive of the
injurer. Often though, although with the following reason it could be seen
as attention seeking, it shouldn’t be thought of in the negative stance
that it sometimes would be, where someone is selfishly trying to get needs
met via the detriment of the well being of those around them; self injury
can be done as a genuine last ditch cry for help, where asking directly
and detailing problems is too hard, or not possible.
The third category of reasoning’s, the ones based around control over
you and real or imagined events around you, has these particular reasons.
As a way of re-enacting past experiences, such as that of intense trauma,
or delusional thinking where you think “If I do this, then that bad
feeling will go away”. The delusion can also be pushed to a situation,
where the injurer feels they must commit the act in order to stop the
‘bad feeling’ from hurting other people.
There’s a grey area between all three of the categories, because most of
the reasons are similar to that of those in the category of “Emotion
Release”, where the act is used as a way of regaining a state of
equilibrium within both the body and mind.
Looking at all three collective categories, you can see a potential reason
why the number of sufferers is distributed among genders the way it us. In
accordance with social conditioning, women aren’t expected to outwardly
express anger and rage, which is a common feeling among self injurers.
This is contrary to the social conditioning men receive, where outward
expression of anger is more commonplace. Also for men, repressing emotions
is a normal action, because an expression of emotion is often seen as a
failure and doesn’t appear macho among society.
A common feeling among self injurers is that of invalidation, and in an
effort to cure this feeling people often try and stick as closely to what
they have been conditioned as possible; which is the reason why women
don’t express anger and rage healthily and men repress all emotion.
The best cure, is understanding
It has never been doubted, that those closest to the self-injurer have
their best interests at heart; and what they seek is a quick fix solution.
A magic pill or a wonder drug. Unfortunately neither have been found, and
although there is a connection between brain chemicals of self-injurers
(serotonin levels); there are also feelings which trigger the injury.
Emotions aren’t going anywhere, so neither are the triggers, this is a
long term problem, which needs long term solutions. The self-injurer is
fully aware that they need to learn of healthier ways to cope, but this
process can be much easier with not only the support but also the
understanding of those around them. Make sure they know that there is
support for them, and try to see, without judging, if they’re trying to
communicate through their injury. Sometimes self-injuring isn’t a
choice, it’s something which is done for survival, because words cannot
be found to express what changes need to be made. Carers need to try
searching, looking through the frosted glass, for what the self-injurer
needs. Validation, understanding, support; they aren’t everything, but
you could go far worse than start with them.