Self-harm is the practice of deliberately hurting oneself, usually through cutting, scratching, or burning, and it is an act that people commit in secret. There are many facets to the psychology behind self-harm.
Like suicide attempts, incidents of self-harm often go unreported, making a complete understanding of the problem impossible. People who commit self-harm are usually careful not to cause enough damage to their bodies to require medical attention. Still, the Centers for Disease Control last reported 575,000 annual hospital visits for self-harm incidents severe enough to require treatment.
Thankfully, treatment is available for individuals who suffer from self-injury, and those who feel compelled to hurt themselves can learn healthier coping skills to deal with their emotional pain. The information below will help you understand the underlying psychological causes of self-harming.
The Psychology Behind Self-Harm
People harm themselves in response to acute psychological stress. Generally speaking, those who commit this non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI, attempt to cope with intense shame, anxiety, and guilt.
By inflicting pain on the body, the individual can feel temporary relief from their anxiety’s physical and emotional grip. Consequently, the purpose of self-harm is to feel better, not to end all feelings, and this is one of the ways it may differ from suicidal behavior.
However, the relief that self-harm allows is fleeting, and feelings of shame and worthlessness soon return. Many people will stop after a few attempts fail to lead to lasting relief; others will continue to harm themselves for longer.
As one practices harming their body, their inhibition toward suicidal behavior goes down, and if they do become suicidal, this may increase their chances of making a suicide attempt.
Underlying Causes of Self-Injury
People frequently self-harm to:
- Cope with emotional stress
- Exert control over their lives
- Punish themselves for perceived flaws
- Disrupt intrusive thoughts
They can be triggered by troubling thoughts of past traumas or in response to current stressors. Common causes of self-injury include:
Traumatic Events: Traumatic experiences from the past, including sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, create unresolved conflict that sometimes leads to self-harm.
Family Environment: Growing up in a home with neglectful or emotionally immature parents can cause a person to self-harm. Instability in the household leads a person to seek control over their emotional state, and cutting or burning oneself is a way to achieve this control.
Shame: People sometimes harm themselves as a way to punish themselves. Their sense of worthlessness, loneliness, and self-hatred is so great that they often injure themselves severely to ease the pain. They feel a deep sense of shame caused by bullying or questioning their sexual identity.
Contact Us Today
Understanding the psychology behind self harm can help people recognize common behaviors and get help. If you or someone you love suffers from self-harm, don’t wait any longer to address it. Contact Advanced Behavioral Health today.
At Advanced Behavioral Health, we care about your mental well-being and can offer ways to cope without self-harming.
You can call us at 301-345-1022 or send us a message online here. One of our team members will help you find the care you need.