People who self-injure lack the skills to communicate to others their pain through the available vocabulary. In such cases, words become inadequate to sufficiently express the emotional experience they are undergoing, hence the need to express it physically. This process of displacing one’s undesirable feelings and thoughts through some self destructive actions is known as acting-out.
These kinds of self-injurious activities act as a communicative device to draw attention towards oneself (crying for help, not the type seen in suicide attempts) or just to document the fact that the pain he/she feels is genuine and valid.
2. To retrieve self-control:
People who have undergone some form of extremely traumatic experience like rape or sexual abuse constantly battle with unwanted internal conflicts. For example, a person having symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder replay the highly emotion evoking traumatic experience repeatedly in their mind.
Cutting, stabbing, pricking, biting or any other form of physical injury produces a very compelling sensation. Self- harming is a tool for them to silence the unpleasant mental chatter in the background by letting the physical pain override the mental disturbances.
Seizing this self-control involves shifting the focus of their attention away from something more troubling inside towards something less troubling outside.
They feel a sense of relief by bringing temporary distraction from their internal chaos to a physical wound, which to them is more bearable, avertable and curable than their inside trauma.
3. To release internal tensions:
Self-harm as a means to release tension is a slight variation of the need to regain control.
When a person is torn apart by heightened internal conflicts, they experience a subjective state of arousal and lack of equilibrium within themselves that instigates the person to take actions against these conflicts to do something physical to reduce the tension.
There comes a time when the tension culminates to the point of being unbearable and hence this person takes it out on himself/herself through cutting, pricking and stabbing themselves to temporarily refocus their attention to something other than just the inner conflict.
This obviously is not the best coping strategy to get over disturbing life experiences but according to people who self-injure themselves, this is the only possible ways to keep themselves functioning.
4. To experience the feelings of euphoria:
Some people who have engaged themselves in self-injurious activities report feeling extremely euphoric or pleasant followed by damaging themselves.
This self-injuries give the self-injurers a “high” feel which makes them feel addicted to these actions. They also recall the experiences and feel good about it. This pleasant feel related to the self-harm reinforces them to repeat it again and again.
5. To punish self:
Most causes of self harm has an underlying connotation of sexual or other forms of abuse. In every form of relationship we construct an image of the other person and judge them based on the image we have of that person.
Similarly in a victim-abuser relationship, an abuser implants certain ideas about the victim (communicated verbally or behaviorally) into the mind of the victim which distorts their self-perception.
The abuser introduces negative ideas like “you are worthless, you are filthy, you deserve to be punished,you are a complete failure”. These ideas are internalised by the victim through introjection and this becomes the reality of the victim.
Even though the victim do not always move around judging themselves according to the faulty value system introjected from the abuser but this becomes the very foundation for practicing self-destructive behaviour.
Whenever the person feels emotionally out of control, the introjected self-perspective takes domination and the need to self-harm as a way to compensate the bad person that he/she has been gets exhibited through self-punishing activities.
Nobody takes such an extreme measure to damage oneself unless the pain they are going through is incomprehension.
As clearly expressed by Cheryl Rainfield, Scars “Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”, self-harm to people who do it is undisputedly justified.
Why is self-harm not the best solution?
For people who self-harm, every time they engage in self-injurious behaviour they achieve a great sense of relief which reinforces the need to injure oneself again in the future when faced with similar stressors. The person keeps repeating these acts unless it forms a habitual coping strategy for him/her, which, without a doubt is maladaptive.
However, self-harm is crippling for the individuals who do it in several possible ways:
- It promotes negative self-belief: One might feel relief on cutting, slashing oneself, but every time one self-injures, one is strengthening the negative concept one has about oneself, ending up nurturing the faulty self-belief one introjected through negative life experiences.
Self-loathing is degrading to the self in several ways, lowering one’s self-esteem, depleting self-confidence and distorting a healthy concept about oneself, neither of which is self-promotional.
- It can be fatal: Many forms of self-harming acts reach extremities like burning oneself, stabbing oneself or performing activities that can put an individual’s life to risk.
- It can hinder your social image: The scars left behind by the wounds on the person’s body will never leave, even after he/she has successfully prevented himself/herself from self-harming. This scars remain long afterwards to remind you of your previous habits. People might make wrong conclusions about you. But you should know that you have been through your own struggles and achieved self-control.
As much uncontrollable as the urge to self-harm is, always remember that it is not the answer to your problems; you have more healthy ways to help yourself.