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Self-Injury and Self-Mutilation

Self-injury is also known as self-mutilation. It is defined as a deliberate infliction of tissue damage or alteration to oneself without suicidal intent. The person who self-injures often desires the physical pain associated with the mutilation in addition to the need to have control over something, anything. By injuring their body, it helps the person ‘escape’ from the emotional pain they are experiencing. People who self-injure often explain their behaviors by saying, “It helps me with my pain,” “It relieves tension,” “I need to punish myself,” “It numbs my emotional pain,” “It makes me feel alive,” “It helps me calm down,” “It allows me to be in control,” and “It helps me express my anger.” These comments from people who self-harm make perfect sense when one understands that cutting the flesh causes endorphins and dopamine to be released from the brain. Due to the natural ‘high’ from the endorphins and dopamine, self-injury can be habit-forming, repetitive, and addicting.


Myth

Self-injury or self-mutilation is a suicide attempt or an attention-seeking behavior.


Truth

Self-injury or self-mutilation is typically used by a person trying to gain a sense of emotional or psychological control.


Characteristics 

Impulsivity 

Poor problem solving skills 

Emotionally invalidating environments 

Physical/sexual abuse as a child 

Troubled parent/partner relationships 

Poor self-value/esteem 

Hypertension to rejection 

Depression 

Anxiety 

Isolation 

Borderline Personality Disorder 

Autism


Self-injurers commonly report they feel empty inside, are unable to express their feelings, and often times feel lonely and not understood by others. Self-mutilation is much more common in females than males. Injuring themselves is a way to cope, relieve pain or hard-to-express feelings, and normally not a suicide attempt. Relief is temporary and without proper treatment, a self-destructive cycle often develops and required intensive mental health treatment. Intervention It is important to empower, encourage, and motivate the individual to express their feelings in healthy, non-injurious ways. The individual must be educated about the dangers of cutting (infection, disease, scarring, etc.) and other methods of self-harm. Validation of a person’s feelings using techniques such as journaling, self-dialogue, and exercise are also beneficial. Introducing alternative behaviors, such as drawing the cuts on their arms instead of actually cutting, utilizing the sensed by taking a shower in cold or hot water (not scalding) or eating something fantastic is very helpful. If the person feels they are unable to participate in any of these pain free activities one can use the rubber band method, allowing the individuals to use a rubber band to flick themselves when negative feelings arise. The rubber band method should be used only as a compromise solution, however, as the snapping of the rubber band is still inflicting a level of pain to the individual when the main goal is to introduce new, non-injurious methods of coping.


Professional Treatment

Dialectical Behavior Therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment method for those individuals who self-injure, -harm, or -mutilate. DBT is offered both in the Adult and Children’s System of Care. For adults please contact Brandon O’Neil at 868-5092, Stephanie Heintz at 868-5091 or Felicia Sprague at 868-5094. For children please contact Christina Cornejo-Felix at 868-8206.

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