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Self-Injury Awareness

HOPE - Help, Outreach, and Public Education

Going Beyond the Myth

Many people have misconceptions about self injury, what it is, who does it, and what these injuries are like.

Here are some basic facts:

Recent studies estimate that 1% of the United States population inflicts self-injury. That's 2 million people.

Self-injurers can be any age, gender, or race and from any socio-economic background. Frequently, those who injure themselves are high-achieving students and professionals.

Not everyone who self-injures was or is abused as a child or adult. Often, self-injury is triggered by chronic invalidation, which means you're constantly told by others and/or by yourself that your ideas, feelings, and concerns are wrong or bad.

Generally, self-injurers are not psychotic, and they present little, if any, danger to others. Most self-injurers suffer from a mood, anxiety, or personality disorder, but they can be helped.

Self-injury is NOT a failed suicide attempt but rather, an attempt to keep suicidal feelings at bay while relieving psychological and physiological tension.

Medication might help a self-injurer, but in order to end this behavior, a self-injurer must learn other ways to cope with distressing thoughts and feelings.

Pressuring someone to stop harming themselves is counterproductive. Ultimatums don't work. In order to stop self-injury, a person must be ready to undergo the discomfort that can accompany the loss of a major coping mechanism. This person needs a strong, supportive network of family and friends around the clock to help when times get really difficult.

Usually, self-injurers aren't trying to manipulate or upset others. Simply put, hurting themselves has become their way of coping with stress and hard times. Here's a quote to help you remember this........."If I wanted attention, I'd walk out in the street naked." (Louise Pembroke, United Kingdom National Self-Harm Network) 

If you think or suspect that someone you know, love, or care about is a victim of self-injury, just question them directly. Don't hedge, hint, or beat around the bush. Ask them. If he/she is evasive or unresponsive to your questions, tell him/her that you're very concerned and ready and willing to talk any time. Then back off. Get counseling for yourself if you need help in dealing with the situation.

Bill of Rights for People Who Self-Injure

Preamble

Self-injury remains a taboo subject, i.e., a behavior that is considered freakish or outlandish and is highly stigmatized by some members of the medical professions and the public. Self-harm, also called self-injury, self-inflicted violence, or self-mutilation, can be defined as self-inflicted physical harm severe enough to cause tissue damage or leave visible marks that do not fade within a few hours.

Acts done for purposes of suicide or for ritual, sexual, or ornamentation purposes are not considered self-injury. This document refers to what is commonly known as a moderate or superficial self-injury and/or a particularly repetitive self-injury.

These guidelines do not hold for cases of major self-mutilation, i.e. castration, eye enucleation, or amputation.

Because of the stigma and lack of readily available information about self-harm, people who resort to this method of coping often receive treatment from physicians (particularly in emergency rooms) and mental-health professionals who can actually make their lives worse instead of better.

Based on hundreds of negative experiences reported by people who self-harm, the following Bill of Rights is an attempt to provide information to medical and mental health personnel. The goal of this project is to enable these professionals to understand more clearly the emotions that underlie self-injury and to respond to self-injurious behavior in a way that protects the patient as well as the practitioner.

The Bill of Rights for Those Who Self-Harm

The right to caring, humane medical treatment

The right to participate fully in decisions about emergency psychiatric treatment, as long as no one's life is in immediate danger

The right to body privacy

The right to have validation for the feelings causing the self-injury

The right to disclose to whom they choose and only what they choose

The right to choose an effective, alternate coping mechanism

The right to engage care providers whose feelings about self-injury will not distort therapy for the self-injurer

The right to have validation for the role of self-injury as a coping mechanism

The right to not be considered a dangerous person simply because of self-inflicted injury

The right to have self-injury regarded as an attempt to communicate to others, not manipulate others.

© 1998-2001 Deb Martinson. Reprint granted with proper credit to author.

Why Do People Inflict Self-Injury?

Self-injury is often a coping mechanism used to soothe an emotional need of some kind. When a person self-injures, they are using physical pain to ward off emotional pain. Self-injurers often feel inadequate and/or unable to trust anyone with their emotions. They have trouble forming personal attachments in order to share fun times and/or comfort with another person. Self-injurers typically have low self-esteem and might form attachments with abusive or needier people.

Cutting is an act of self-medication. When the body is injured, hormones called endorphins are released to fight anxiety, agitation, and depression. The chemical interplay can produce an addiction to the "drug" manufactured by one's own body.

How Do I Stop?

Decide to stop hurting yourself. Here are some things that a self-injurer can do.

  • Identify stressors.
  • Take a shower.
  • Count the colors in a painting.
  • Do a surprising, thoughtful thing for someone else.
  • Keep your mind and hands busy.
  • Be creative.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Keep a journal.

Things Self-Injurers Can Ask and Say

  • How do I feel right now?
  • How will I feel when I'm hurting myself?
  • How will I feel after hurting myself?
  • How will I feel tomorrow morning?
  • Why do I feel the need to hurt myself?
  • What's brought me to this point?
  • I don't need to punish myself for someone else's crime, stupidity, insensitivity, or mistakes.
  • Punishing myself won't change others or make the memories go away.

How Others Can Help Self-Injurers

  • Educate yourself about self-injury.
  • Be supportive without reinforcing self-injury.
  • Don't take someone else's physical or mental pain personally.
  • Acknowledge the pain of your loved one.

For more information about self-injury and/or National Self-Injury Awareness Day, please contact the NSIAD Committee chair at 206-223-9657, or email llama@drizzle.com.