In a previously published article I wrote about a specific type of self-harm known as compulsive skin picking disorder and how, in the most serious cases, it can necessitate skin grafts to repair the severe damage done to the flesh.
In this article, I want to look at the possible reasons why some people are driven to self-harm ( or, as it is sometimes referred to as, self-mutilate).
First, it should be pointed out that those abused as children have a much higher than average chance of adopting self-harming behaviours (such as compulsive skin picking, as well as cutting and burning the skin). Also, females are at greater risk than males. And, finally, those who have an existing disorder of substance abuse and/or an eating disorder are also at elevated risk of becoming self-harmers.
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Possible reasons include the following:
1) the physical pain induced by self-harming temporarily distracts the individual from overwhelming psychological pain.
2) many people who have suffered traumatic childhoods become adults who feel emotionally numb and dead, they may , too, experience a sense of being somehow ‘unreal’ (psychologists call this sensation depersonalization) and of the world itself being ‘unreal’ (psychologists refer to this sensation as derealization). Self-infliction of pain, however, does feel real, thus, it may temporarily counteract the feelings of numbness and unreality.
3) those who have suffered childhood trauma have often been conditioned by their parents to believe (erroneously) that they are somehow ‘intrinsically bad'(click here to read my article on this). Self-harm may be driven, therefore, by an unconscious desire to punish oneself.
4) for those who have experienced significant childhood trauma, often the specific causes of their psychological suffering are far too complex to be expressed verbally. Self-harm, then, may be a way of expressing the acute mental pain one is in non-verbally. In this way, self-harm can be seen as a way to act out internal emotional turmoil.
5) if we were deprived of proper care and nurturing as a child, self-harm may be (again, on an unconscious level) an attempt to gain these things from which we were deprived (although it should be noted that many individuals who self-harm injure parts of their body which are not generally on public view because they feel a sense of shame and embarrassment about their self-inflicted injuries).
6) finally, it is also theorised that self-harm can trigger a state of DISSOCIATION.
For detailed advice (provided by the NHS) about self-harming behaviour and how it can be addressed click here.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.