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|Self Injury|

WARNING: Some of the content of this page may be disturbing to some and may "trigger" current or past self-injurers.

What is self injury?

It is also referred to as self-harm, self-mutilation, or cutting. It is, in most cases, cutting, burning, branding, scratching, etc of the skin, where the damage is rarely life-threatening, and usually well hidden. It is a coping method, a physical pain to drown out unbearable feelings and emotional states, or a way to feel something when the person feels "numb" inside. The pain and sight of blood are often the only way to feel relief for a self-injurer. It is not a suicide attempt, though the two are generally wrongfully associated.
Self-mutilation is categorized into three types. This is clinically useful because each type of self-mutilation is prevalent in certain mental disorders either as a central diagnostic or as an associated feature. The three types are:

Superficial/Moderate: The most common type of self-injury. It usually begins in early adolescence and refers to such acts as hair-pulling, skin scratching, and nail biting, which are the "compulsive subtype". The "episodic and repetitive subtypes" are comprised of skin-cutting, carving, burning, branding, needle sticking, bone breaking, and interference with wound healing; these are what is being seen in (most commonly) young women today. Skin-cutting and burning that occur episodically are the most common of all self-mutilative behaviours and are commonly an associated feature in a number of mental disorders - ie. borderline, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, and eating disorders.

Stereotypic: Refers to monotonously repetitive and sometimes rhythmic acts such as head-banging, hitting, and self-bitting. This occurs most often in severly mentally retarded persons as well as in cases of autism and tourette's syndrome.

Major: Refers to infrequent acts such as eye enucleation, castration, and limb amputation. It is most commonly an associated feature of psychosis - ie. schizophrenia, mania, depression -, acute alcoholic and drug intoxications, and trans-sexualism. Patients' explanations for this behaviour tend to have religious and/or sexual themes - ie. the desire to be a female or adherence to biblical texts referring to tearing out an offending eye.

*Note* Stereotypic and Major Self Mutilation is seen in mental disorders or extreme cases. Superficial/Moderate is the most widespread and hidden/ignored type of self injury, and the focus of this page (disregard other two types when reading further).


This is the end of ignorance. There are all sorts of rumours out there about self-injury, and most of them are wrong. If you like living in your bubble and wish to continue to do so, then go back now, please by all means, evacuate this page. If however, you choose to stay, THANK YOU. One less ignorant person makes the wold....well, less ignorant.

-It is a failed suicide attempt-
This has got to be the biggest myth out there, so let's get this straight. It is not a suicide attempt. Self-injury is a coping method, a way of dealing with emotions and thoughts that are overwhelming. Sometimes, that can lead to a suicide attempt, but not always. Trust me, if a cutter wanted to die, they would be six feet under already. For the most part, cutting is not life threatening.

-They're just doing it to get attention/manipulate someone-
I'm sorry, but no. The majority of cutters hide (or at least do their best to hide) their scars. If they really wanted your attention, they'd would stand up and scream, or run naked down Main Street. Think about it. There are other ways to get attention that don't involve pain or scarring and that are not socially degrading. And as for manipulating someone, self-injury is ego-centric, meaning it does not involve anyone else directly. Yes, others can and often do help to trigger, but they do so pretty much indirectly. This is not to say that someone letting another person know about their self-harming is seeking attention. They are asking for help with their problems.

-They're not normal, bring in the anti-depressants! Lock them up!-
Sure, medication and/or hospitalization is helpful to some. This is not the case with all. Chemicals are not necessarily the answer. Unfortunately, the public and health care practitioners seem to think this. Therapy may be the more grounded answer. But the succesfulness of psychology depends on the individual.

-It's nothing serious, just a phase-
Phase, my ass. No one can "grow out of" self-injury; they learn better coping methods, how to express themselves in other mediums than blood and pain. It is not an "experiment"....this is real, this is the only effective way they have of coping.

-They've been hurting themselves for so long, there's no point in trying to help them-
Well, i guess we should just give up on everyone! There are so many things that so-called "normal" people do to themselves that are considered self-harm, but .. those habits are socially acceptable. As i said, this isn't a phase, it is not something that anyone will grow out of overnight. It takes a lot of work with a trusted therapist, or on your own - different people have found different methods. Support is incredibly helpful, even if it's just an ear to talk to. You don't have to have all the answers - just be there for a friend in need.

Coping Tecniques

-Start a journal, poetry book, etc and write when you feel like cutting, it's a good way to verbalize your emotions.

-Write in red pen, or take a WASHABLE red marker and draw on your body where you want to cut....it satisfies the visual need for blood.

-Take time to pamper your body - ie take a long bath, to remind yourself that you are something to be cherished, not destroyed.

-Be with someone, even if you don't talk to them. Just having someone else with you helps immensely for some.

-Leave the situation, room, etc - go for a walk, change rooms - sometimes it could be the place or circumstances rather than a feeling.

-Find something to do with your hands. Doodle, play a computer game, something.

-Draw, colour, collage! Find some way of expressing yourself through art, or just free-hand.

Controversial: the next two methods are argueably helpful.

-Wrap a rubber band around your wrist and snap it when you feel the need to cut.


-Hold a piece of ice against your skin, be careful not to do it for too long.

These are two coping strategies that are recommended by health care practitioners, doctors, etc....but are questionable because they are a form of self-injury - physical pain (although slight and not permanent) to alleviate emotional stress.


Facts obtained from Bright Red Scream, picture from Razor Kisses.