The Issue of Self Harm among Women

Self-harm is a growing and troubling trend. It’s a frightening disorder, most common among women, where hurt and alienation are expressed by injuring oneself. There are several kinds of self-harm. Self-mutilation and various eating disorders are among the most common forms of self-destruction. These forms of self-harm often lead to suicide.

There are three types of self-mutilation. The rarest and most extreme form is Major self-mutilation. This form usually results in permanent disfigurement, such as castration or limb amputation. Another form is Stereo-typical self-mutilation. This usually consists of head banging, eyeball pressing, and biting. The third and most common form is Superficial self-mutilation. This involves cutting, burning, hair pulling, bone breaking, hitting, interference with wound healing, and basically anything that causes harm to oneself.

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It’s almost unimaginable that one would inflict injury upon oneself. However, cutting, burning, slashing, stabbing, and bruising occurs while apparently no physical pain is felt. As many as three million Americans are believed to be suffering from this psychiatric disorder. (Simpson)

The very nature of this problem is shrouded in secrecy. It is no surprise that it has taken some time for people to get wise to this growing problem. There are several different theories as to why one engages in such behavior.

One popular theory is that it’s a control issue. There are also several reasons for a need for control. For instance, when children are abused, they are in a situation of no control. Their abusers can hurt them at anytime, and the children are largely powerless to stop it. When the child grows older and is faced with stressful situations, it is easy to feel out of control. There is often a strong desire or expectation for pain, because pain is associated with stress in that person’s mind. People who have had these associations forced upon them frequently cut themselves because it satisfies a psycho-logical desire for pain. Not only is the desire for pain fulfilled, but the pain can be stopped. The person is now in control.

Another theory is that the person feels that they deserve the pain as punishment. Abused children have often been taught that they are bad people. Their abusers along with others have denied the child’s experiences as being valid. Some of these people turn to violence or criminal acts in order to get the punishment they feel they deserve. Most, however, cannot ask others to punish them, so they punish themselves with things like cutting.

In some cases, cutting is a manifestation of a desire to become physically unattractive. This is most commonly true of girls who are constantly bombarded with messages that they are beautiful and desirable. Often these girls are victims of traumatic abuse such as rape. They naturally reason that if they make themselves unattractive, they will be undesirable and no one will rape them. (Rosenberg)

Women seem to not be able to express their anger outward. When they feel terrible anger, they often take it out on themselves by cutting or burning. Some psychotherapists believe that cutting may release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain which block pain and produce a sense of well being.

Women use this terrible addiction to feel something. Several have numbed themselves to emotional pain. Things like cutting are proof to them that the pain is still there. Often, seeing blood flow is symbolic as an emotional release. Along with the blood, pain, anger, and frustration leave as well. (Conterio)

Once someone has engaged in self-mutilation, how do they stop? Psychologist, Barbara Stanley has offered a list of suggestions that may help one overcome the urge to hurt:

o call a friend, your therapist or a crisis line

o wear an elastic band around wrist and snap it when the urge to harm yourself comes

o draw red lines on yourself with washable markers instead of cutting

o scratch draw a picture on wood with a screw driver and stab the piece of wood

o draw a picture of what or who is making you angry

o go to church or your place of worship

o break the object that you use to self-harm as a way to show that you have control over it

o write down all your positive points and why you do not deserve to be hurt

Although these suggestions help one to overcome the urge, the pain that caused self-injury in the first place is still very present. Counseling is usually the best answer to help one deal with the hurt they are feeling.

Eating disorders go hand in hand with self-mutilation. Both are forms of self-harm and many who suffer from eating disorders also cut, burn, etc. Both are used to help the individual cope with, block out, and release built up feelings and emotions. Several misconceptions are made about eating disorders and self-mutilation. Although most think that eating disorders are only a way to lose weight, often times, like self-mutilation, it is about gaining control. Weight becomes the one thing in ones life that they can control.

Self-mutilation and eating disorders can lead to suicide or at least suicide attempts. Eleven percent of suicides in 1990 were a result of girls cutting their wrists. (Copeland Lewis 18) Also, suicide, like self-harm is a result of many forms of depression.

Many different things lead to self-harm. More and more Americans each day are suffering from this disorder. It is time for new light to be brought to this growing problem and help needs to be offered. Whether the form be cutting, bruising, slashing, or throwing up, the seriousness is still great.

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The Issue of Self Harm among Women. (2018, Jul 03). Retrieved from