Self-injury involves the act of deliberately harming one's own body. Though self-injury behaviors can be correlated with suicidal ideation and attempt, often, self-harm is meant as a way to cope with emotional pain, such as intense anger and frustration. Harming oneself is meant to act as an emotional release. While undergoing these behaviors can result in a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, guilt, shame, and the return of painful emotions usually follow. Additionally, self-injury comes with the potential for more serious and possibly fatal self-aggressive actions. Thus, it is extremely necessary to seek help for these behaviors. 

What are some possible symptoms of self-injury?

  • Patterned scars 
  • Fresh cuts and wounds 
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in warmer weather 
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships 
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness 

What should you do if worried that a friend/loved one is self-harming?

Although initially one may feel as if they have betrayed an individual's confidence for seeking help, self-harm is too big a problem to ignore or to deal with without seeking professional help. *Note: information provided that details self-harming behavior is a limit of confidentiality.*

  • Child --- consult their pediatrician/healthcare provider; can provide an initial evaluation of behaviors and injuries and/or can provide a referral to a mental health professional.
  • Teenager --- suggest they talk to parents, a teacher, a school counselor, or another trusted adult 
  • Adult --- gently express concern and encourage the individual to to seek medical and mental health treatment 

What are potential causes for self-harming behavior?

  • Coping skills --- an individual may find it hard to develop healthy ways to handle psychological pain/may not have access to healthy outlets 
  • Difficulty managing emotions --- hard time regulating, expressing, or understanding emotions to the point where self-harm seems to be the only option 
  • Person may be trying to...
    • Manage/reduce distress and anxiety; provide relief 
    • Use physical pain as a distraction method to avoid feeling painful emotions
    • Have a sense of control over their painful situations and feelings
    • Feel anything in the face of feeling empty 
    • Express internal feelings externally 
    • Communicate feelings to the outside world 
    • Be punished for perceived faults 

What are the risk factors for developing self-harm behavior?

  • Often starts in pre-teen and teen years in which emotions are fluctuating and there is an increased risk of peer pressure, loneliness, and conflict 
  • Broader life issues --- neglect, abuse, trauma
  • Mental health issues --- high in self-criticism; commonly associated with BDP, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders 
  • Alcohol or drug issues 

What does treatment for self-harm look like?

  • The first step is to voice what is going on so that help can be reached
  • Psychotherapy can help with:
    • Identifying and managing underlying issues that trigger self-injuring behavior 
    • Learning skills to better manage stress 
    • Learning how to boost self-image
    • Developing skills to improve relationships and social skills 
    • Develop healthy problem-solving skills

Here at Madrigal, we are committed to addressing self-harm in a holistic manner to reach your best potential. 

*This information was adapted from Good Therapy. Click here to learn more information.*