Self-Injury Facts and Fallacies: SIAD 2013

Self-Injury Facts and Fallacies: SIAD 2013

By Amanda Fox

Trigger Warning: this blog post contains information about self-harm.

“I don’t cut because I want to die. I cut because I want to live.” That could easily be the motto of Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) this year. Self-Injury occurs in about one in every eight individuals at some point in their lifetime. Some may have a very short-lived and mild encounter with the practice, while others will swing to the opposite end of the spectrum. Either way, it is a habit ritual that most would prefer to live without.

Shattering the Misconceptions of Self-Injury

When we think of self-harm, we think of cutting because that is the most widely practiced means of causing self- injury. But there are many other forms of self-harm:  embedding objects under the skin, trichotillomania (pulling out hair and sometimes eating it), scratching, preventing wounds from healing, burning and the ingestion of toxic substances.

Self-injury is also primarily associated with white teenage girls, however, some 30 years of more comprehensive data shows that self-harm is non-discriminatory. Anyone can be a self-injurer. Any color, age, gender, education level or socio economic background has it’s share of self-injurers.

Why does someone hurt them self intentionally though? Years ago, the popular belief was that it was a means of attention-seeking behavior gone too far. Now, we know better. Without getting too technical and into the specifics of potential organic issues, generally, the motivation to self-injure is typically associated to taking control over oneself.

saidSome of the Facts and Fallacies about Self-Injury

Self Injury is a means of taking control over one aspect of a person’s life. For many self-injurers, when everything seems out of control, self-injury serves as something they can take full control over and regain a feeling of being centered.

Self-injury is not about trying to commit suicide. People who self-injure will actually employ the practice to avoid suicidal ideations in some instances. With that said, Self-injury gone too far could result in death.

Self-injury can be the product of major recurring depression, anxiety, substance abuse and/or withdrawal, genetics, abuse, self loathing and a self-depersonification associated to emotional numbness.

Self-injury is not attention seeking behavior in most cases. Most self-injurers will work very hard to carry out the practice in as much secrecy as possible.

It is also not true that once a person stops self-injurious behavior, they will never return to it. In some cases, a person with self-injury in their past may return to the behavior years or even decades later. Self- injury among the elderly does occur, with the majority of such cases being in those who had self-injured when younger.

How We Can Make a Difference

Self-injury is something that will never fully go away, nor will the stigma associated to it, but we can make a difference. By being aware of potential triggers for this behavior, we can better monitor those close to us to look for signs that may indicate self-injurious behavior.

We can be an ear that listens without judgment and shoulder to lean while we encourage the individual to seek professional help.

We can stop treating self injury as if it is a problem that is limited to only one type of person or has no real basis of motivation. We can stop treating it as a taboo subject and bring out to the light of day.

What to Look For

About 80% of self- injurious behavior is centered on cutting or stabbing the skin. Pattern scarring and heavy scarring are definite indicators that a person may be engaging in self-harm.

In most cases, a self-injurer will try to hide the areas of their body they injure.  Consequently, potential indicators you should be aware of include always wearing long sleeves or pants, even when the weather would dictate otherwise as well as avoiding activities where clothing that would expose the injuries are unavoidable.

You can also watch behavior patterns to help get an idea of whether or not a person appears to right him/herself after a crisis situation in the same secretive manner on a fairly regular basis. Again, please take note, these are only potential indicators.

What’s Next?

If you or anyone you care about, or even just know peripherally, is engaged in self-injury, please seek professional help. Please do not lecture, poke fun at, look down upon or otherwise chastise the individual for their behavior. Offer compassion instead. At the bottom of this column, points of contact have been provided for those seeking help.

It’s also important to be aware that self-injurious behavior can sometimes be demonstrative of (often undiagnosed) developmental disabilities including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or other autism spectrum disorders.

My Perspective

As a self-injurer of 30 years, with episodes spanning my pre-teen years to this calendar year, I speak not as an authority on the topic, but rather as a very well-informed participant. I don’t want to self-injure. I hope I never intentionally engage in self-injurious cutting again. I realize, however, the odds are against me.

After going nearly a decade without an incident, a number of stressors triggered what was for me a nearly unconscious compulsion to find relief. Even though I know better, it still happened.

For Assistance

One Million Scars

Self-Harm / Self-Injury hotline – 1-800-DONT-CUT

Help Guide


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  1. Kathleen Gick says:

    This is such a thoughtful and insightful post. Thank you for helping us to become better informed.

  2. Tab Pierce says:

    Thanks for sharing, I don’t believe I’ve known anyone to self injure, but I appreciate the awareness because I’m sure I will at some point.


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