Self-harming behavior typically does not stem from a desire to commit suicide. With that said, some self-harming behaviors can be serious and even life threatening. For this reason, it is vital to seek help if you have an urge to engage in this type of behavior or if you suspect that someone you know may be exhibiting signs of self-harming behavior.

What Is Self-Harming?

This type of behavior has a complex psychological basis. In many cases, self-harming behavior is a type of coping strategy to deal with stress or may even be viewed as a type of self-punishment when the person feels they have done something wrong. In other cases, it may be used to deal with emotional pain.

Due to the serious nature of this disorder, it does require immediate intervention. While the individual may not intend to commit suicide, the risk of unintentional fatal injury is a reality with this type of behavior.

Symptoms of Self-Harming

The symptoms related to self-harming behavior may vary from one person to another. Self-harming behavior may involve any of the following behaviors:

  • Burning oneself or branding
  • Cutting
  • Hair pulling
  • Picking at skin or re-opening wounds
  • Head-banging
  • Bone-breaking
  • Hitting oneself
  • Punching things, such as a wheel
  • Bruising oneself

Most people who engage in self-harming behavior do so alone instead of in group. Furthermore, people who engage in this type of behavior usually try to hide their actions. Indications that someone may be engaging in self-harming behavior include:

  • Difficulty handling one’s feelings
  • Low self-esteem
  • The appearance of razors, sharp objects, or lighters that would not be typically expected among that person’s possessions. For example, someone who does not smoke but who has a lighter.
  • Relationship problems
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants even in warm weather

Causes of Self Harming

Self-harming behavior may occur in either gender. This type of behavior is not limited by age, education, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. With that said, there are some factors that may be common among individuals who engage in this behavior. For instance, this behavior does appear to be more common among teenage girls as well as those individuals who have a history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Persons who have co-occurring problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance, abuse, or eating disorders may also be more at risk for self-harming behavior. People who were raised in an environment where expressions of anger were discouraged may also be at a greater risk for self-harming behavior. Those without a good social support network may also be at a greater risk.

Self-harming behavior usually occurs when an individual is trying to cope with feelings that are distressing or overwhelming. People who engage in this type of behavior may feel as though it relieves feelings of anxiety, stress, or pressure temporarily. Self-harming behavior may also be viewed as a way of experiencing pain externally rather than internally. This type of behavior is sometimes used as a way to manage or control pain while providing a way to break through numbing pain. In some instances, this behavior may be used as an indirect way to ask for help.

Some people may also use this behavior as a reflection of their own self-hatred. For instance, someone who has strong feelings that they were not allowed to express or who feels as though they are bad or not deserving may utilize self-harming behavior as a way of coping with those feelings.

Other possible causes for self-harm may include use/abuse of certain mood-altering drugs, borderline personality disorder, and certain syndromes.

It’s important to note that while self-inflicted harm may result in damage that is life threatening, this type of behavior is not necessarily considered suicidal behavior.

Self-Harming Treatment

Consulting a therapist with experience in self-harming behavior is critical for anyone who is showing signs of this type of behavior. The first step in treatment is usually an evaluation, which will determine the appropriate course of treatment based on that individual’s situation and symptoms. In some cases, self-harming behavior may be a symptom of other types of psychiatric illness, such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, major depression, and schizophrenia. When that is the case, it is important for all other disorders to be diagnosed properly to ensure an appropriate form of treatment is used.

The most common forms of treatment for self-harming behavior includes psychotherapy, which may be used to assist an individual in stopping self-harming behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be used to assist the person in learning how to recognize and address the feelings that may trigger this behavior in healthier ways. Post-traumatic stress therapies may prove beneficial for persons who have a history of incest or abuse.

Other types of therapy may include dialectical behavior therapy, which can be used for teaching the person necessary skills for coping with emotional stress, stressful experiences, and interpersonal issues.

Group therapy may also be used to help someone suffering with self-harming behavior learn how to talk about their problems with others who suffer from similar problems. This form of treatment may be helpful for alleviating the shame associated with this behavior. While engaged in group therapy, persons who struggle with self-harming behavior may learn healthier ways to cope with stress and other overwhelming feelings.

Family therapy may also be used to help in addressing issues involving family stress while also helping family members learning healthy ways for communicating in a direct manner.

Hypnosis and other forms of relaxation techniques may also be used for alleviating tension and stress that could trigger self-harming incidents.

The prognosis for self-harming behavior typically varies based on the individual’s psychological or emotional state along with other diagnoses. It is vital to identify the factors that result in the person’s self-harming behaviors. With proper help and treatment, it is possible to overcome the feelings that may lead to the urge to self-harm.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.