Self Injury

Self mutilation also known as self-injury, skin cutting, parasuicide or ‘trauma reenactment syndrome’, has remained one of the most hidden aspects of many survivors’ lives and one of the least understood effects of trauma. It may involve cutting, burning, bone breaking, hitting, head banging, hair pulling or any other temporary or permanent injury that causes pain or marking. Persons who exhibit this type of behavior may prefer the term ‘sib’, short for ‘self injurious behavior’.

A large percentage of child sexual abuse victims use this coping mechanism, however, not all persons who SI were abused.

One of the most difficult aspects of SI to deal with is health professional’s not understanding the underlying causes. You and I SI to help cope with pain that would otherwise be unbearable. Many, but not all, health professionals see SI as ‘attention getting’, but we don’t SI to get attention. What to do? SI is usually a form of control. We do it do demonstrate, to ourselves, that we have control over ourselves. Sometimes the sight of our blood ‘brings us back’. Sometimes we SI and need professional treatment (stitches, etc). Did you cut too deep? When that happens it’s difficult to find someone who will treat the immediate injury without judging you.

They shunt you off to the ‘crazy section’. They think you are trying to kill yourself or are trying to ‘get attention’, and neither of these things could be further from the truth.

One of the best web resources on SI is S.A.F.E. Alternatives

Assessing your immediate need to self-injure – This page has a questionnaire that you can fill out. Taking the time to answer the questions honestly and completely may help you over the immediate need to SI. If you still feel the need, the site also has advice on ways to SI safely.

There is also advice on coming out and dealing with scars.

S.A.F.E. Alternatives (1-800-DONTCUT) is an inpatient program specifically for self-injurers located at McNeal Hospital in a Chicago suburb (this program was formerly located at Rock Creek Hospital and at Hartgrove Hospital).

Finally, remember that the same risks regarding disease transmission exist with cutting as exist with intravenous drug use. Please do not share cutting implements!


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