Why self-injury?

Why do people engage in self-injury?

Even though there is the possibility that a self-inflicted injury may result in life-threatening damage, self injury is not suicidal behavior. Although the person may not recognize the connection, SI usually occurs when facing what seems like overwhelming or distressing feelings. The reasons self-injurers give for this behavior vary:

  • Self-injury temporarily relieves intense feelings, pressure or anxiety
  • Self-injury provides a sense of being real, being alive – of feeling something
  • Injuring oneself is a way to externalize emotional internal pain – to feel pain on the outside instead of the inside
  • Self-injury is a way to control and manage pain – unlike the pain experienced through physical or sexual abuse
  • Self-injury is a way to break emotional numbness (the self-anesthesia that allows someone to cut without feeling pain)
  • Self-abuse is self-soothing behavior for someone who does not have other means to calm intense emotions
  • Self-loathing – some self-injurers are punishing themselves for having strong feelings (which they were usually not allowed to express as children), or for a sense that somehow they are bad and undeserving (an outgrowth of abuse and a belief that it was deserved)
  • Self-injury followed by tending to wounds is a way to express self-care, to be self-nurturing, for someone who never learned how to do that in a more direct way
  • Harming oneself can be a way to draw attention to the need for help, to ask for assistance in an indirect way
  • Sometimes self-injury is an attempt to affect others – to manipulate them, make them feel guilty or bad, make them care, or make them go away


A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, & Survival A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Overcome the Effects of Sexual Abuse

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One thought on “Why self-injury?

  1. I applaud you for trying to educate others about self-injury. Few people understand how self-injury can be a coping mechanism and not a suicide attempt. By illustrating some of the reasons for this behavior, a greater social awareness will occur. It is imperative that individuals who are engaging in SI understand that they are NOT alone and that there is help available for them. Education is a critical part to bringing this disorder out of the shadows.

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