“I would feel relief when overwhelming emotions passed, so I began to self-harm regularly, first with a knife, then with razors, cutting into my wrists, forearms, and then other parts of my body, I would do it for about 15 minutes, and afterwards, I wouldn’t feel so awful anymore. I could continue with my day.” In the 1930s, Karl Meninger first described the phenomenon of self-harm and named it the wrist-cutting syndrome.

Today we use various terms to describe self-harming behavior:

Non-suicidal self-injury Intentional self-harm Self-punishment Self-injury Auto-aggression Parasuicide What we emphasize is that we are talking about behavior, not the entire personality. There are numerous definitions of this type of behavior. The ways self-harming behavior manifests include:

  • Cutting the skin Carving drawings,
  • shapes, or inscriptions
  • Burning the skin with a cigarette or lighter
  • Deliberately hitting one’s head against objects
  • Stabbing sharp objects into the skin
  • Inflicting blows on oneself Intensively scratching with objects
  • Burning the skin

Self-harm is an unhealthy solution to emotional problems, as are starvation, substance abuse, or psychological self-harm, which involves entering relationships with people we know will hurt us. We can also connect self-harm with suicidal thoughts and intentions. When a person has no intention to take their life, that is one of the characteristics of self-harm, and that’s why it’s important to understand the complexity of unhealthy behavior, misunderstanding of one’s emotions, as well as to realize the seriousness of self-harm, even though there isn’t an intention that can be hard to identify as something definitive.

How can we help?

  • Do not judge
  • Be understanding
  • Provide support
  • No promises Accept them

We must understand that for some, self-injury is the only known way to soothe their emotional pain. They are often alone and lonely in this because their environment is not sensitized to understand unhealthy behavior, and when they muster the courage to seek help and support, they encounter misunderstanding, distress, and intensified emotions and reactions from others.

In that suffering, they feel lonely, a person adopts this unhealthy behavior, and it becomes the only way they feel relief and control over themselves – through managing physical pain, since they have no control over their emotions.

Master psychologist, Ružica Radović

Sources: McAllister, 2003; Derouin & Bravender, 2004; Silverman, 2009; Skegg, 2005; Gratz, 2003; Ross & Heath, 2002; Inch et al., 1995

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