Self-Injury: A Quick Guide to the Basics


Many people associate self-harm with cutting oneself. In fact, there are much more types of auto-aggressive behavior (that is, actions when a person deliberately hurts himself). Some of them are even socially approved and people do not recognize them as self-harm. There are still no uniform criteria for what is self-harm. My Canadian Pharmacy uses the term “nonsuicidal self-injury”, “non-suicidal self-harm,” which includes the application of wounds, cuts, scratches, burns, and other injuries to your body.

The person who does this usually does not have suicidal intentions – this way he gets rid of pain or hard feelings. But this does not mean that such actions are not dangerous: cuts can lead to serious bleeding or infection, and burns can leave scars or cause pain shock and social consequences: many people who practice self-harm are ashamed of it and cannot tell anyone about the problem. However, ways to harm yourself are not limited to injury. Some people deliberately violate the schedule of taking medications or drive a car in a dangerous manner.

Why do people self-harm?

While there are many theories about why people hurt themselves, the answer to this question varies from one person to another.

Sirius Project points out some reasons why people are self-harming:

  • an attempt to distract oneself from emotional pain, causing physical pain,
  • the desire to punish yourself
  • relieve tension
  • feel your reality through pain or injury,
  • experience euphoric feelings (associated with the release of endorphins),
  • inform other people about your pain, anger or other emotions,
  • the desire to take care of yourself in the period of healing

Warning signs

Sirius Project helps to understand that you become a threat to yourself.

  1. You cut, scratch or burn yourself. This is what we mainly imagine when we hear the word “self-harm” – the cuts that people most often apply to their thighs, wrists, forearms, or palms. Some people scratch themselves with a knife or any hard objects to bleed, stick needles into themselves or inject objects under the skin or soft tissues. Putting your fingers in a boiling or hot liquid (yes, “checking the temperature” is also considered if you know that the water is very hot) or consciously grabbing hot or hot objects with your bare hands is also a type of self-harm. Less extreme options include scratching wounds and sores, squeezing pimples and nibbling burrs to the blood;
  2. You provoke or cause bruises: beat your head against a wall or door jamb “as punishment”, slap yourself, press your fingers with a door – all this refers to self-harm. Self-choking is also a manifestation of auto-aggression – just like when a person squeezes parts of the body to bruises, strongly stings skin to painful sensations;
  3. You tear your hair out. This symptom even has a separate name – trichotillomania: this is the name of the obsessive desire to tear out the hair on the head or other parts of the body, including tearing out eyebrows and eyelashes. This is an obsessive repetitive behavior, which is very difficult to cope with by an “effort of will”. Symptoms are usually aggravated by stress, conflicts with close people, irrational thoughts and other strong psychological stress (deadlines, fear of failure, and the like);
  4. You deliberately abuse alcohol. Yes, it is also on the list. If a person deliberately gets drunk, knowing that in the morning he will be sick of so much alcohol, this is deliberate harm to himself. “I want to get drunk today” is a manifestation of auto-aggression;
  5. You overeat or starve, induce vomiting. Auto-aggressive behavior includes diets with strict food restriction, compulsive overeating, and the habit of inducing vomiting after eating to “clear” the stomach. Even if these are one-off cases that do not fall under the diagnosis of an eating disorder, they indicate emotional distress and the fact that the person cannot cope with it in any other way;
  6. You are intentionally “mistaken” in the dosage of drugs. You deliberately exceed the dosage of the medicines you need or, on the contrary, miss the intake (meaning not the usual forgetfulness, although in this case there is something to think about). The more serious the drugs and the more your life depends on them (antibiotics, insulin, neuroleptics, and so on), the more serious aggression towards yourself you have;
  7. You do risky things. Sex without a condom with strangers, dangerous driving and drunk driving, as well as any other risky situations that you do although you know that they could have been avoided – all these are symptoms of auto-aggression. There are situations when you ignore the symptoms of physical or mental health disorders, work without rest twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and constantly postpone rest and visits to the doctor.
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Psychological treatment

Self-harm is a problem that most people are ashamed of and afraid to discuss with other people. Very often, people diligently hide their self-harming behavior and do not want to seek psychological or even medical help.

Since self-harm is often associated with other psychological problems, their treatment is usually carried out as part of the treatment of another disorder, such as substance abuse or eating disorders. Sometimes feelings that lead to self-harm are caused by other disorders. A person may experience an overwhelming sense of shame, which induces him to use drugs and cut himself. Often it is possible to work with self-harm in the context of psychotherapy of an associated problem. If people learn coping strategies that allow them to control cravings for psychoactive substances, these same strategies can be used with regard to wanting to hurt themselves.

There are certain types of therapies that focus precisely on stopping self-harm. A good example of this is dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT), which includes individual therapy and group skills training. DBT is psychotherapy, which was originally developed for people with a borderline personality disorder who practiced self-harm or “parasuicidal behavior.”

Now, this psychotherapy is applied to people who practice self-harm, with any psychological problems, including eating disorders and chemical dependence. The theoretical basis for DPT is that people engage in self-harm in an attempt to regulate or control their strong emotions. DPT teaches clients how to manage emotions, how to stop dissociating and tolerate stress. Studies have shown that DPT can help reduce self-harm.

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Drug treatment

Psychopharmacological treatment can theoretically help in reducing self-damaging behavior, but this has not yet been carefully studied. There is currently no consensus on whether or not psychiatric drugs can affect self-damaging behavior. This is a difficult question to study since self-harm is found in different groups of the population and is often combined with other psychological problems. If your doctor prescribed you medications for the treatment of emotional problems that are associated with your self-damaging behavior, you can order them at My Canadian Pharmacy – an online store selling affordable generic drugs.

The most important thing is to admit that the problem exists and not be afraid to ask for help.