Understanding Self-Injury and its Treatment

What is Self-Injury?

Self-injury (also called self-harm or self-mutilation) is the attempt to deliberately cause harm to one’s own body through three main ways:

* Superficial self-mutilation: The most common form of self-injury usually involves cutting, burning, hair pulling, hitting, picking at or reopening old wounds, bone breaking, and other methods of self-harm.

* Stereotypic self-mutilation:  The second most common form of self-injury usually consists of head banging, eyeball pressing, and biting.

* Major self-mutilation: The rarest and most extreme form of self-injury usually results in permanent disfigurement through such acts as castration or limb amputation.

Self-injury is not a conscious attempt at suicide, but rather a way for people to punish themselves or express their feelings and emotions. This is because most people who self-injure have an extreme dislike for themselves, have extreme mood swings, and are unable to handle these intense feelings or express their emotions verbally.

Why do People Self-Injure?

People engage in self-injury for a variety of reasons, and this behavior is not limited to people of a certain gender, age, race, etc. However, there are some common risk factors among people who self-injure, including:

* Perfectionist personalities.

* A history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

* Co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or eating disorders.

* Growing up in a family that discouraged expression of anger.

* An inability to express emotions.

The reasons self-injurers practice this behavior also vary. Depending on the person, self-injury:

* Temporarily relieves intense feelings, pressure or anxiety;

* Is a way to express self-loathing through punishing them self;

* Allows them to feel pain on the outside instead of the inside;

* Is a way to break emotional numbness so the person feels alive;

* Is a way to draw attention to the fact that they need help;

* Can be used to manipulate people close to them to feel bad, guilty, make them care, or make them go away.

How is Self-Injury Treated?

Many people who self-injure are afraid to admit it because they fear they’ll be judged as being crazy or evil. It’s important to understand that self-injuring does not mean you’re crazy; it means that you need help learning how to cope with your emotions and face the childhood and adult issues that have led to your behavior.

If you or someone you love engages in self-injury, it’s important to find a therapist who understands this behavior and has experience treating it. Many self-injurers find that a residential treatment program is the best way to overcome their behavior. A residential treatment program for self-injury consists of:

* Cognitive-behavioral therapy to help the person recognize and address triggering feelings in healthier ways;

* Post-traumatic stress therapies for those who have a history physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;

* Interpersonal therapy to address the underlying issues of low self-worth;

* Learning techniques to reduce the stress and tension that often precedes self-injury incidents;

* Group therapy to encourage healthy expressions of emotion and to decrease feelings of isolation and shame;

* Family therapy to address family issues and help family members learn to communicate without judgment.

At Casa Palmera, we treat the entire person and take into consideration a person’s life experiences, past trauma, personality, family, medical history and their nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle values. Our holistic approach helps to alleviate symptoms and enhance your resolution for recovery.

If you need help overcoming your self-injury behavior, call Casa Palmera today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.