Copyright, Sarah Michelle Fisher


So, you think you know something abut self-injury. Well, we’ll see.

Have you ever felt so aggressive, afraid, angry, belittled, betrayed, bitter, cheated, confused, depressed, deceived, disappointed, foolish, empty, insecure, hopeless, frustrated, lonely, lost, miserable, numb, pained, picked-on, rejected, small, sorry, stupid, suffocated, tense, terrified, useless, un-wanted, un-loved, un-important, worried, wrung-out, worn-out, withdrawn, ticked, tortured, trapped, and blank that you’ve turned to hurting yourself just to feel something different?

I’m not talking about telling yourself how horrible, stupid, or ugly you are. I’m talking about cutting, burning, hitting, bruising, picking, digging, biting, and scratching at your skin. I’m talking about hair pulling, head-banging, bone-breaking; interfering with your healing wound behavior.

Nine out of ten chances, one person, at the very least, in your classroom right now has done it. I know a few people in here right now that have. I know I have.

Just because people self-injure, doesn’t mean you’ll know about it. Many people who self-abuse hide it, or do it somewhere normally un-seen. They also blame animals, plants, and accidents for their marks.

It is important to remember that self-harm isn’t masochism. There is, however, a fine line between the two.

Masochists hurt themselves to get off, for the pleasure, the rush, and the high.

Self-mutilators hurt themselves to release whatever it is that is bothering them at the time. They may also cause harm to themselves as a punishment for something they did or said.

This paper is for the un-educated and the skeptical people when it comes to self-injury. Hopefully, you learn something you don’t already know. Whether it be that you are not alone, or that people who do this are not monstrosities. They just are in need or help, and have found self-injury to be their coping mechanism and their release from the horrible emotions from everyday life.

Self-Injury can enter someone’s life in many ways. Normally, a person has one or both of depression and/or eating disorder.

Three out of four people who suffer from eating disorders or depression fall into the addiction of self-injury.

Self-Injury has many names. Self-mutilation, self-harm, S.I.B’s, self injurious behavior, self-abuse, S.I., and para-suicidal behavior are among the most common names. Many people say they cut, or burn, or use another S.I. behavior for the name of this disorder.

For years I have interfered with the healing of cat scratches. I’ve done this purposely because I liked to see the blood, and I liked the relieving feelings I got from it. Recently, I’ve been biting the skin around my fingernails to the point of bleeding. These are two examples of self-abuse.

I’ve pulled my hair; sometimes so hard it would come out. I do this as a punishment or out of stress. I also have bitten my hand so hard it marked and bled. I’ve scratched cuts into my skin, banged my head on things and gotten knots, and done so for relief or punishment. Never once did I know what I did and do was and is self-injury, a psychological disorder.

I started to cut myself for relief, and read about self-harm. That is when I found out that I’d actually self-mutilated for years. That’s also when I realized a lot of people don’t know much about it. Most importantly, I realized a lot of people have it and don’t get help because they don’t recognize it as a problem.

Self-Injury can be seen in the media, and has been common for many, many years. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, there were three main practices of self-injury:

  • Christian cults and Australian Aborigine males slit their penises along the urethra as a rite of passage into adult-hood.
  • China practised female foot binding, but it is rare today. They bound their feet so tightly that it broke, and re-broke bones.
  • Africa, for the New Year’s Festival, often mutilate their bodies while in a trance.

Many rites of passages and religious ceremonies include one or more forms of self-injury.

The media has helped self-injury become more widely known. This was with the help of a man names Fakir Musafar. He experimented and studied self-harm for over fifty years. He is believed to be the cause of self-injury becoming so popular. He’s been known to bind his waist at nineteen inches with a needle and thread. He has done this for thirty some years. To him, self-harm is an art. He now publicly performs his self-abuse.

Do the names Elizabeth Wurtzel, Richey Edwards, Shirley Manson, Fiona Apple, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Christian Ricci, Marilyn Manson, and Princess Diana ring any bells? These are all famous people in our times. These are also all people who have had a history of performing self-mutilation.

Sometimes people find it hard to categorize self-harm. Some simple ways to tell are as follows:

Self-injury is a harmful act done to oneself by only oneself
Tattoos, piercing, ritual mutilation, and drug use are not self-injury acts
Self-harm must involve physical violence
Emotional abuse isn’t self-harm
Self-harm in done with the intention of hurting oneself
Accidentally harming yourself isn’t self-harm
Self-harm is done with absolutely no intention of committing suicide
Although suicide is intentional, it does not classify as self-harm
Suicide is sometimes accidental when self-harming, but it isn’t intentional

Self-injurers usually have some sort of ritual they have when self-harming. This can range from what type of environment they have, what their procedure is, and what type of self-harming instrument they use.


The environments that are most common are that of the person’s own home. The bedroom and bathroom are the most popular places to commit the self-harm acts. Sometimes people add candles, close curtains, have certain times of the day they harm themselves, or a number of other things. If a past abuse has occurred that had been very traumatic, the setting and time of the self-abusive act could be very similar to the time of when the abusive act from another occurred.


Some people refuse to use more then one type of instrument to commit the act of self-harm. Sometimes people will only use razors or knives. Other items people may use range from lighters, hammers, pencils, pens, erasers, safety pins, nails, to clippers. It is all about personal preferences and feeling.


Some rituals that people have are preparing their environment. Pre-injury activities usually consist of this. This can be very calming and satisfying to the individual. Post-injury activities include using certain disinfectants and ointments. Taking a bath, writing, and drawing are also used to help ease a person after their abuse is committed.

Thoughts before self-harm are those of wanting to hurt oneself; of needing to, of thinking it is the only way they will feel better. They also think that if they only do it a few more times that they will be okay.

During the self-abusive acts, thoughts that people have are those of hating their appearance, personality, and everything about them. They also degrade their intelligence level. People also think that life sucks, and they just wish someone would care about them.

Afterwards, many cannot believe what they have done, and they feel weak and pathetic for doing the abusive act. They also worry about people finding out and not understanding, so they hide it and decide not to tell anyone. They also feel much better, despite the guilt and shame they feel afterwards.

Many things that self-injurers feel, think, and put up with are feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, isolation, alienation, comments, vulnerability, loss of control, and many other things.

Shame can be produced by the scars they have and by other external forces, such as parents.

Embarrassment is caused by “unexplained” bald spots, scars, bruises, and other visible, yet temporary marks.

Comments people make, such as, “Wow! How did you get that? That must have hurt!”, are extremely painful to the self-injurer. These comments can produce many negative feelings for the person they are directed at.

Isolation and alienation make people feel crazy and very alone. Not many people give the support and positive attention self-injurers need to overcome the acts they commit.

Vulnerability or loss of control can occur due to dissociative self-abusive acts. When people come out of a dissociative episode, losing touch with reality, and find the self-harm mark, it is hard to cope with. This isn’t common, but it does happen. People feel vulnerable also because the blood and harm to their flesh give them so many positive feelings. They also feel that they need it.

Self-harm is very addicting. Whether a person sees it as an art, or as a release, the addiction is clear and very, very strong.

Now that you know a little about self-injury, let’s try and classify the who’s and what’s of self-harm.

Who self-mutilates?

Usually women do the harmful act at home, in a therapist’s office, or other places like that, while men do it while in prison. Both sexes do self-mutilate though.

The act usually is started in the teenage years and increases in the twenties. Most people’s need to harm ends in their thirties, but this is not always the case.

Substance abusers, who commit the act of self-harm, usually do so while under the influence. They usually don’t commit this act any other time.

People with depression and eating disorders self-mutilate because of the similar psychological effects.

Individuals with a past of psychiatric treatment and/or psychological, sexual, or physical abuse are at risk for self-mutilating.

What are the types of Self-Mutilation?

Psychotic/ Major S.I. includes the removal of body parts such as eyes, arms, ears, and genitals. This usually occurs in response to a visual or audible hallucination. This, however, is very rare.

Organic/Stereotypical S.I. stems from Autism, developmental disorders, and other psychologically induced disorders. This is influenced by physical or chemical problems in the body. Examples of this are head-banging and lip-biting. This is the second most common form of self-mutilation. This is common in the Mentally Retarded population.

Typical/Superficial/Moderate S.I. is due to emotional or psychological reasons. This helps people cope with feelings. Examples of this are cutting and burning. These people inflict moderate pain or injury to themselves. This is the most common type of self-injury.

Some people may wonder about the fashion of self-harm. It is important to remember that tattoos, body piercing, and scarification is body modification.

People who self-harm for the art of it do things like pick their scabs, set the area on fire with rubbing alcohol, put ink in the wound, and put cigar ashes in it. Sometimes they just brand the art on themselves using heated metal.

Body art and self-injury are very distinctive. Here are the body art vs. S.I.’s:

  • Making a statement vs. making self feel better
  • Uniqueness vs. coping
  • Set apart from mainstream vs. shame
  • Proudly show Vs. secret
  • Conscious choice vs. unable to control urge

Self-Injury is a very complex disorder. It releases beta-endorphins that stop pain, make you feel good, and release all those bad nasty feelings. It is also very addictive and symbolic.

Some people do it because it is the only thing that they can control. Some do it because they need to feel and it makes them feel alive. For them, the physical pain is better then the emotional pain.

Picking out someone who self-injures doesn’t have to be hard. They are commonly middle to upper-class Caucasian female who is intelligent, well educated, and in the thirteen to thirty-five age groups.

Other factors are physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child, parental drug use or alcoholism, parental neglect or abandonment, parental loss from death or divorce, or tense or abusive parental relations.

People also have constant aims for perfection, strong or moderate dislike of body, frequent mood swings, feelings of anger, rejection, failure, loss, helplessness, or abandonment. They also show an inability to cope with strong emotions and inability to release or express emotions to others.

Self-injurers have difficulty expressing and healing emotions. They can’t explain their injuries and wear long pants and shirts constantly. They also isolate themselves.

Since self-harm can accidentally cause death or destroy relationships, try and help self-injurers out, Here are some ways you can do that.

  • Attitude, be accepting and open. Don’t be judgmental. Make them feel safe and secure in talking
  • Please recognize the severity of their problem. They really are unable to control their urges
  • Don’t get angry! Acknowledge that they are under stress and offer help
  • If you or they believe they will really hurt or kill themselves, stay with them until the urge is gone. Encourage them not to be alone during these episodes
  • Encourage them to talk with an adult
  • This will be very difficult, stressful, and frustrating for you. Be willing to take on the responsibility
  • Don’t threaten them. It is hard enough to quit without worrying of doing the act and reaping the repercussions

Remember that we are people too. We just some have deeper seeded issues. It doesn’t make us freaks. It just makes us feel better.


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