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Self-injury Awareness Month: Is self-harm a coping mechanism or an act of self-punishment?
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Self-injury Awareness Month Is self-harm a coping mechanism or an act of self-punishment

A deliberate act of hurting one’s own body by cutting, burning or inflicting other forms of injury is termed as self-harm, a behavior that indicates the lack of coping skills. Self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with one’s emotional pain, anger and frustration. While the act may generate a momentary sense of calm and help release tension temporarily, it is usually followed by guilt, shame and the return of painful emotions. Though self-injury or self-harm is not an attempt to commit suicide, it can be carried out for completely different reasons, and can also be a symptom of other mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and psychotic disorders.

While it may make complete sense to those who choose to inflict physical damage to themselves, for others, the act of self-harm might appear puzzling, senseless and at times, even irrational. Though the reasons behind such an activity may not be apparent, recognizing the signs is crucial to understanding the behavior.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of self-injury:

  • Wearing long-sleeves or long pants, even when it’s warm
  • Fresh and unexplained cuts, bruises and other wounds
  • Keeping sharp objects in hand, bag or cupboard
  • Pulling out one’s hair
  • Behavioral and emotional instability

Why do people purposely injure themselves

For some, injuring oneself physically is simply a way to gain someone else’s attention or a failed suicide attempt. Some even dismiss the act as senseless or irrational behavior. No matter what reasons are cited, individuals who indulge in such a behavior struggle to regulate their feelings.

One of the commonly reported reasons for indulging in self-injury is to punish oneself. An attempt to cope with highly distressing feelings, injuring oneself helps one distract from negative emotions or shift awareness from emotional pain. For such individuals, self-injury becomes a way to express or release their negative feelings towards themselves.

For some people, self-harm is a way to express things indirectly. While many may see the behavior as manipulative, listening to a person’s direct request and addressing one’s need can help lessen the desire  to employ indirect attempts of communication. Therefore, understanding what an individual is trying to convey by indulging in self-harm behavior can be crucial to dealing with the person’s behavior in an effective and constructive way.

According to a 2017 study, intrapersonal functions, especially those concerning emotional regulation were most commonly reported by individuals who engaged in non-suicidal self-injury behavior (NSSI). However, the study also found interpersonal functions such as expressing distress to be less common among individuals reporting NSSI.

Here are some of the possible psychological motivations behind self-injurious behavior:

  • To express or communicate
  • Way to exercise control or punish oneself for being bad
  • Effective coping mechanism
  • Escape from uneasiness, emptiness and depression
  • Relief from overwhelming or unbearable situations
  • Way to validate one’s emotional pain
  • Relief from anger or a way to give vent to one’s feelings
  • To exert a sense of control over one’s body

Self-injury Awareness Month is observed every year in March the United States. It presents each one of us with a unique opportunity to learn more about the issue and lend a helping hand to those who are suffering. It is an addictive behavior and many people continue to suffer fearing shame and stigma in seeking treatment.

Holistic approach is essential for complete recovery

Recognizing that there is hope beyond self-injury is the first step toward recovery. According to NAMI,  treatment for self-injury depends on the diagnosis and may include psychotherapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A well-trained counselor can offer the much-needed support and help an individual learn effective life skills.

Sovereign Health offers comprehensive and holistic treatment for self-injury disorder and any other underlying mental health or substance use-related problem. Our patients are given customized treatment basis their need and condition. Self-injury disorder treatment for women may include medications, psychotherapy or both, in a private, safe and calm environment. For more information on our top-notch recovery programs or to locate our state-of-the-art rehab centers, call our 24/7 helpline number and speak to an admission counselor. You can also chat online to know more about the finest self-injury treatment centers for women.

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