Self-injury: Not Just for Kids

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness

(c)2014 Nancy Virden

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It’s in the news these days; teenage girls are purposely mutilating their bodies to achieve feelings of physical pain.  This is not tattoos, body piercings, or even suicide being discussed. It is self-injury, most often referred to as cutting even though other means are prevalent as well.

I’ve met a few of these girls. I will not mention where on their bodies they have done it, how, or what the results look like. All three of these topics serve as “triggers,” giving a self-injurer a sensation of need for physical pain.

girl gesturing

Believe it or not, self-injury is addictive, and not a “just say no” problem. Obviously, it is driven by powerful emotions. Some people who engage in it say it is calming, others report it overcomes their emotional numbness. Many will hurt themselves in front of others or talk about it freely, while numbers of them will keep it hidden. Regardless of why or how, people who hurt themselves on purpose are in genuine need of emotional support.

What is not reported in the news is who else is self-injuring.  Boys, women, and men are using this means to temporarily escape the overwhelming  stress which results from not having basic emotional needs met. I know one boy, one man, and several older women who self-injure. The women started later in life, in their twenties, thirties, and fifties.  Is it possible there are senior citizens reaching for relief by engaging in this behavior? Absolutely.

With self-injury’s addictive properties, it makes sense that young girls age into women with the same problem. I’ve heard people celebrate anywhere from one day of abstaining to two years or more of recovery. Personally, I do not know anyone who has been free of self-injury longer than that and talks about it. Shame and embarrassment keep the public ignorant of the facts . Often, even doctors outside of the psychiatric field have little idea of what to do and will turn away self-injuring patients.

The purpose of today’s blog is to open the discussion just a bit. With my teeth clenched and hands shaking, I admit to self-injury in my past. Compassionate love demands this of me. Suicide, depression, and mental illness in general must be brought to the forefront in order for society to effectively support the hurting.

If you know someone who self-injures, get professional help for him. Choose a self-injury expert, or at the very least, an addictions specialist. There is hope, help, and healing.

What is your understanding of this topic? Questions are welcome.

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline     1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

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