Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bleeding Hearts: the secret shame of self-injury

“by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

The shouting from yet another argument rung in my ears. Feeling torn, broken and misunderstood, through dripping eyes I glanced at the drawer where I knew a razor lay. "Just once this time..." Muttering, I grabbed the blade and began to run it across my arm. Not once, but over and over again.

Finally the blade dropped and I bandaged my wounds as a sense of relief came over me. It would be temporary, but it was the only way I knew to control my life and let out the anxiety and pain.


Today is Self-Injury Awareness Day.

Most people are at a loss to understand why people choose this form of release to deal with stress in life. Why would someone purposely hurt themselves? Most self-injurious behaviors start in the teenage years when an individual is overwhelmed with circumstances in life and views self-injury (SI) as a way to deal with the pain without hurting anybody else. This is not the reality of it, though, and as one friend told me upon retrospection, "I wish more than anything that back then [when I started self-injuring] I had known how destructive it was."

So what exactly is self-injury? SI is an impulse control disorder used to temporarily calm out of control emotions and anxiety. It can include compulsive cutting, burning, carving, re-opening wounds, hair pulling, scratching, nail/finger biting and skin picking. While studies show that 14-39% of teens have self-injured at least once, the numbers are assumed to be quite higher, as it is a secretive behavior. One very strong correlation that has been found is in abuse victims. Close to 60% of those who self-injure have endured some type of abuse. Sexual abuse is particularly damaging to children and teenagers and many victims turn to SI as a way to punish themselves or literally cut out the imperfections and shame brought on by abuse.

The psychological foundation for SI lies in the belief that the emotional pain they are enduring is too much to handle, but physical pain is manageable, so covering inner pain with outer pain redeems them.

But there is hope. While SI can become an addiction, even that can be broken when replaced with healthy coping alternatives. I suggest starting by creating a list of 10 reasons not to hurt yourself, and countering that with 10 things you can do instead. Keep adding to the list and try to practice alternative methods.

For further help, please check out these resources:
To Write Love On Her Arms
Live Free Journey
S.A.F.E. Alternatives
Scars that Wound, Scars that Heal
Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut
Inside A Cutter's Mind