Why Do People Self-Harm?

As more and more attention is rightfully brought to the public imagination about mental health issues, the subject of self-harm has made headlines in a wide variety of mainstream media circles.

Self-harm occurs when a person intentionally injures themselves in order to cope with negative emotions or experiences. Self-harming behaviors include cutting oneself with a knife or burning oneself with a lighter.

A Common Issue

The condition is not a rare one: Recent studies have even shown that around one in twelve teenagers has experimented with self-harm; however, real rates of self-harm may be much higher; because of social stigma around the subject, many people choose not to disclose that they have struggled with self-harm.

Yet self-harm can affect people from a wide variety of social backgrounds. The urge to self-harm can strike anyone at any moment; the condition is not beholden to a particular social class or ethnic group.

Causes of Self-Harm Behaviors

But why do people intentionally inflict pain upon themselves? What are the risks of such behaviors?

These are complicated issues with no easy answers. Self-harming behaviors often follow in the wake of traumatic experiences or emotions. For example, a person who is trying to avoid traumatic memories may cut themselves in order to “snap back” into the present moment. Because the brain releases dopamine when the body is injured, moreover, some individuals self-harm in order to feel better or to escape feelings of sadness.

Mental Health and Self-Harm

Self-harming is also a primary feature of some mental health conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. People with BPD often struggle with overwhelming senses of anxiety and depersonalization. When overwhelming emotions related to anxiety or depression occur, people with BPD may feel temporary relief via self-harming behaviors such as cutting or burning.

Some mental health conditions that may involve self-harming behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Major Depressive Disorder

Self-Harm as an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism

It is important to recognize that the person using self-harming behaviors to ameliorate the symptoms of a mental health condition is not trying to do something wrong or shameful.

For a person with BPD or PTSD, for example, feelings of anxiety and depression can be all-consuming and debilitating. Even if the justifications for such actions are ultimately distorted in their logic, anything which provides even temporary relief is therefore seen as justifiable in the mind of the sufferer.

Fighting a Personal Battle

Imagine for example that you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean. A storm arises seemingly out of nowhere: Almost instantly, waves begin to dash against the sides of the ship; the wind tears at the ship’s sails and threatens to tear them loose.

A person in such a situation would go into survival mode almost immediately; any opportunity to get away from this scenario would be taken.

This is akin to the experience of people with conditions such as BPD. Due to overwhelming feelings of negativity, for example, a person experiencing a BPD episode will often feel as though their very survival is at stake. Even if they are not in any real peril in a particular situation, the person’s body and brain will make them feel as though they are in extreme danger.

A Mode of Emotional Escape

It is not surprising then that a person in the grip of a personal crisis will do anything to escape their thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, behaviors such as self-harm can be fatal even if the person self-harming does not intend to inflict a fatal wound on themselves.

For example, the accidental cutting of an artery in a leg or arm can quickly cause major blood loss. Because a person may quickly lose consciousness due to exsanguination in such a scenario, moreover, they may not have the time or focus to seek help or attend to their injury.

Confronting the Dangers of Self-Harm

For this reason, health professionals regard a propensity towards self-harm as an extremely serious and life-threatening condition. For the sufferer, moreover, help cannot come soon enough.

This is to say nothing about the fear and anxiety that family members and friends of someone exhibiting self-harming behaviors experience on a day-to-day. Their worry for a loved one may be immense and even debilitating in its own right.

Fortunately, there is potential for help even in these difficult scenarios! If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm behaviors, please get in touch with us today. Life can get better. Call us at 844-639-8371.

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