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Self-injury, also called self-inflicted violence (SIV), is the intentional infliction of injury to oneself. It can consist of cutting one’s own skin with a sharp implement, burning, scratching, pulling out hair, interfering with wound healing and breaking bones. There is no suicidal intent, just the intent to injure.

Common Self-injury Habits

  • Cutting
  • Burning skin with a match or lighter
  • Carving things into the skin
  • Self-inflicted wounds
  • Skin peeling

Trauma And Self-injury Disorder

Women who have experienced trauma are more likely to inflict self-injury on themselves. Trauma can be caused by many experiences including childhood abuse or neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault or rape, verbal abuse, witnessing war or accidents, and natural disasters. Many people who injure themselves often also abuse substances or have other mental disorders.

When looking into the effects of trauma on women, there is a strong correlation between surviving abuse and the onset of self-injury disorder. The purpose or intention behind self-injury disorder is complex, primarily aiming to restore psychological equilibrium.

Although physical injury is a result of self-injury, it is usually minimal and not life-threatening. The common thread among those with self-injury disorder is an experience of stress or trauma. The after-effects of trauma continue until adequate treatment is provided.

Many attempts have been made to estimate the prevalence of self-injury, but it is difficult because people who live with it generally attempt to keep the behavior secret. This is not only because of shame or embarrassment, but also to avoid intervention. Many mental health providers do not screen for self-injury disorder, or overreact and perceive the behavior as possibly suicidal.

Causes Of Self-injury

Many causes are behind self-injury, but the common denominator is psychological pain. Many trauma survivors live with profound grief, anger, shame, guilt and rage. When the trauma source has been removed, the impact remains until treated. Many women who self-injure say that the emotional pain is so great that the relatively minor pain of self-injury feels like nothing in comparison.

Signs And Symptoms

Signs that a person may be self-injuring include:

  • Wearing long sleeves and long pants even in hot weather to hide scars
  • Visible cuts, bruises or scratches
  • Broken bones or frequent “accidents”
  • Often having a knife handy
  • Appearing to be a loner
  • Verbalizing hopelessness, worthlessness
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Anxiety

The areas on the body most commonly affected by self-injury are those that are easiest to reach. The arms, legs and front of the body are easily accessible and convenient to hide with clothing.


Flashbacks are an unexpected reliving of the traumatic event and are not uncommon for survivors of abuse and other trauma. The flashbacks can be triggered by smells, sounds, sights, anniversary dates or for no apparent reason. The person experiencing the flashback feels as though she is reliving the event in the present moment, and self-injury may serve the purpose of ending the sensation and returning to the present. Many survivors feel self-blame and shame to the degree that self-injury is felt to be a form of self-punishment.

Self-injury Treatment

Self-injury treatment aims to recognize and, thus, eliminate the underlying mechanisms for self-injury. Whether the cause is grief, depression, anger or anxiety, psychological therapies can help alleviate the desire to self-harm. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectal behavior therapy, exposure therapy, cognitive remediation and neurofeedback are proven therapies to alleviate the underlying mechanisms causing self-harm behavior.

Treatment For Self-injury At Sovereign Health

Sovereign Health’s women-only treatment center in Chandler, Arizona, specializes in the treatment of trauma and abuse. Our experienced clinical staff thoroughly assesses and diagnoses our patients for any and all underlying conditions of trauma, such as mental disorders or addictions. All conditions are treated concurrently to achieve a successful outcome.

Our treatment centers recognize each patient’s unique circumstances by providing personalized treatment plans tailored to specific, individual needs. Our patients learn life skills so that they may have the tools they need to lead productive lives and avoid relapse.

Fun and therapeutic activities are available, including equine therapy, art therapy, yoga, meditation and exercise. Sovereign Health of Arizona provides patients with residential rehab in a safe and supportive environment where they can focus on their recovery.

Sovereign Health’s self-injury treatment centers accept most major health insurance plans. If you would like further information about treatment for self-injury, please call our 24/7 helpline to speak with a member of our admissions team.


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