What Is Self-Injury?
by Cyntianna Ledesma
Self-Injury-- also known as SIV, or Self-Inflicted Violence-- is when a person physically abuses their bodies as an alternative to facing emotional struggles. Forms of SIV include: cutting, scratching, or burning oneself; picking scabs or interfering with wound healing; punching objects to purposely hurt oneself; and some forms of hair-pulling. It's sometimes said that excessive tattooing and body piercing are also forms of SIV. How common is it? Well, it's estimated that over 2 million Americans suffer from this mental illness. Although people who SIV (self-inflict violence) are from all walks of life, studies show that most are women between the ages of 13 and 60. The majority of SIV sufferers are intelligent, fucntional people who seem well-adjusted in their everyday lives...but have very low self-esteem.
Who and Why?
To understand SIV, you must first understand the person behind it. More than half of sufferers report that they have been sexually abused. Others claim that they had no role models when they were growing up, or were constantly invalidated by family members. Often, they believe they are "worthless" or will never "do anything with their lives". As high as 90% say they never learned how to express emotion or were raised to believe that showing emotion was bad and should be avoided. People who SIV are also linked with other illnesses such as Anorexia, Bulimia, Borderline Personality Disorders, Manic Depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.
It may seem like a gruesome and painful thing to do, but for people who SIV, cutting or burning or hurting themselves is often a slap back to reality. Emotional pain can make someone feel numb on the inside, with no control. Causing physical pain to one's body is an attempt to break through that numbness and lack of control. Some say that just seeing the blood makes them feel real and alive, like a runner's high. SIV is NOT an attempt at suicide, but rather, a survival skill. In this way, it's not much different than drowing one's pain in alcohol, cigarettes, or food.
Reaching Out For Help
If you or someone you know purposely cuts, burns, or bruises their bodies, you should seek help IMMEDIATELY. Although people who perform SIV do not want to die, complications from injuries can lead to infection, illness, and possibly even death.
If you perform SIV, tell someone you trust-- perhaps a family member, friend, or counselor. Or call a confidential mental health hotline (listed below in Resources). Admitting that you have a problem and wanting to stop are the first steps to becoming SIV-free. Try to find other means of letting out your sadness or anger. If you are angry or frustrated, consider hitting a punching bag, tearing up an old newspaper or phone book, or throwing ice into a bathtub hard enough to shatter it. If you're sad or melacholy, baby yourself in some way.
Numbness or wanting to feel sensation can also be alleviated in non-violent ways; for instance, squeezing ice hard (which will hurt, but won't leave a mark), or snapping your wrist with a rubber band. Do crossword puzzles or close your eyes and lie down, focusing on the way you breathe. Do something that takes thought and concentration to distract yourself from wanting to cut.
When It's A Friend
If someone who performs SIV tells you they want to stop, be extremely supportive and do NOT give up on them. Make it clear that you're willing to talk about their problems, and will not judge or treat them differently. Help them find professional assistance. Those who SIV have a difficult time trying to stop because they see no other way out. Offer encouragement, and acknowledge each time they fight the urge as a milestone.
- S.A.F.E. (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives
The nation's only inpatient center for self-inuries. For more information about SIV, including where to get local help, call 1-800-DONTCUT or visit their website at www.selfinjury.com.
Offers information and message boards about self-harming behavior, plus coping skills, alternatives to self-injury, support groups, personal cutting stories, and ways to stay safe.
24-Hour Telephone Hotlines:
- National Mental Health Association
- Regent Hospital
- Convenant House 9-Line
- A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain
by Marilee Strong, Penguin USA
- Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers
by Karen Conterio et al, Hyperion
- The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence
by Tracy Alderman, New Harbinger Publications
About The Author:
Cyntianna Ledesma, 16, lives in Miami, Florida and currently writes for the Miami Herald's newest teen section "Check It Out". She is also a member of her school TV production program and an intern at Vista magazine.