Self-Injury is something that is foreign to me. During my outpatient therapy days, I only had a couple of clients who engaged in self-injury type behaviors. Since changing from the outpatient therapy world into the residential world, I am seeing more and more adolescents who engage in self-injury or self-harming behaviors. As I said before the concept of self-harm is foreign to me, I don’t understand the function or the purpose behind the behavior. So doing as I always do when something is foreign to me I start researching and reading and reading some more. I am driven to provide the best possible care that I can.
Over the past several months, I have read and read trying to gain an understanding of self-harm and the function this behavior serves. When I began this journey, I viewed self-harm (cutting) as a suicide attempt. Let me say before I go any further with this post always, always evaluate for suicidal ideations. ALWAYS! I was astounded at the prevalence of self-injury per recent studies 1/3 to 1/2 of adolescents in the United States have engaged in some form of self-harm. That is a lot of young folks causing harm to themselves. But why? What’s the purpose? What are these young people trying to tell us adults?
Why? Self-Injury is not easily explained by one single cause. When examining self injury one must look at multiple causes. Instead of asking why an individual engages in self-injury. We must stop and consider what happened in the persons life to cause them to engage in self-injury.
So what’s the purpose of this behavior? Throughout my reading and research I have found four functions that appear to be consistent with self-injury.
- To regulate affect, soothe emotional wounds.
- Seek Mastery over Pain and Past Trauma
- Communicating pain, controlling others
- Authenticating a sense of self.
Everyone has a story to tell and each story is as different as the individual telling it. The main thing is to be ready to listen and provide unconditional positive regard for the individual as they share their story.
Over the next several weeks I will be dedicating some time to the exploration of this subject and I hope that my readers will find the information useful.