Self-harm, also known as self-injury, self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behaviour, or self-mutilation, can be defined as the deliberate, direct injury of one’s own body that causes tissue damage or leave marks for more than a few minutes and that is done in order to deal with an overwhelming or distressing situation.
Approximately 1% of the population has, at one time or another, used self-inflicted physical injury as a means of coping with an overwhelming situation or feeling.
It’s important to remember that, even though it may not be apparent to an outside observer, self-injury is serving a function for the person who does it. Figuring out what functions it serves and helping someone learn other ways to get those needs met is essential to helping people who self-harm. Some of the reasons self-injurers have given for their acts include:
People who self-injure often never developed healthy ways to feel and express emotion or to tolerate distress. Studies have shown that self-harm can put a person at a high level of physiological arousal back to a baseline state.
It’s natural to want to help people who self-injure develop healthier ways of coping when they feel overwhelmed, but it’s important not to let your discomfort with the concept of self-harm cause you to issue ultimatums, punish self-harming behaviour, or threaten to leave if the person self-harms again. Ideally, you should set boundaries to keep yourself feeling safe while respecting the person’s right to make his or her own decisions about how to deal with stress.
For more information about self harm, its causes and some common myths click here