There are a few topics in life that I feel very strongly about. Some of these topics are controversial issues that many people feel very strongly about. Religion, abortion, free speech, and purity before marriage are all issues that many people feel very strongly about and yes, I feel very strongly about all those issues. However, today another issue is on my mind.
I have noticed a very concerning spread of a certain poor choice among young people. It was more secretive when I was in school- I knew only a few who struggled with it- however now, maybe because I am older and (uh wiser I guess) I know many more kids who are cutting or burning themselves as a form of emotional release. This issue is close to my heart and not many are aware of the severity of this new trend in society.
Maybe not everyone will find this post as their cup of tea. It is difficult to put a humourous spin on something that I take so seriously. It is important to me to spread awareness of this because the kids I know who injure themselves are not the kids you would expect. I am not saying strip the youth down and search for strange marks on their bodies. I am not asking you to ask 'the tough questions'. Instead, I ask for you to be aware.
Self injury is not a form a suicide. It is not an attention seeking mission most of the time either. According to Wikipedia, "Self-injury (SI) or self-harm (SH) is deliberate injury inflicted by a person upon their own body without suicidal intent. Some scholars use more technical definitions related to specific aspects of this behaviour. These acts may be aimed at relieving otherwise unbearable emotions, sensations of unreality and numbness. The illness is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, or mental traits such as low self-esteem or perfectionism, but a statistical analysis is difficult, as many self-injurers conceal their injuries." (The links are to the actual Wikipedia site)
The Pain We Hide is a website created by a self diagnosed 'cutter'. His information may be biased or just plain out wrong. However, they have the most complete compilaation of statistics that I have found. Most web pages are unsure of the actual stats and only post a few. This list seems like a compilation of stats from various other sites that I have seen including Helpline.net and other reputable sites. Unfortunately because it is a personal site without any ethical grounding in plagiarism they do not say where they obtained their statistics. Anyway, they reckon that in the UK,
- 43% know someone who has self-harmed.
- 41% of people believe self-injury is selfish and 55% of people believe it's stupid.
- Approximately 24,000 teenagers were admitted to A&E for self-injury in England and Wales in 1998.
- 1 in 130 people - 446 000 or nearly half a million people self-injure across Britain.
- 142 000 hospital admissions are result of self-injury across England and Wales every year
In the world,
- An estimated 2 million Americans admit to purposely cutting or burning themselves.
- The average self-injurer begins in her early-mid teens and continues with increasing severity into her late twenties.
- More than half of self-injurers are victims of abuse or neglected/emotionally abusive childhoods.
The 19 year old who established this site compiled a list of things tendencies that he has or that he has noticed in his friend who cut. They are very interesting. He lists them as:
"The general picture of people who self-injure appears to be people who:
- are overly sensitive to rejection
- are chronically angry, especially at themselves
- strongly dislike themselves
- tend to suppress their anger
- have high levels of aggressive emotions
- tend to act according to their moods
- tend not to plan for the future
- are depressed and suicidal/self destructive
- tend towards irritability
- tend to be avoidant
- do not think they have enough control
- do not think they can cope
Self-injury can occur at any age, and in any sex, race, culture or status. But the most common occurrences are in females aged between 15 and 19. Males can suffer too but the most common age in males is between 20 and 24 years of age. There is no clear national/international statistics about self-injury as most keep it hidden but estimated numbers have been composed."
The Helpline said something I think has to go into the discussion of SI (self injury).
Self-injury is little understood by most people. The idea of deliberately hurting yourself is seemingly incomprehensible. For most of us, cutting or burning our skin would be incredibly painful and difficult to carry out. For cutters, it is not a strange thing to do. In fact, many cutters that I have spoken to, despite being ashamed, did not think it was a volatile or destructive way to handle their situation. Perhaps, some do realise. I honestly do not know. The following is extracted from helpline.
"The alteration or destruction of body tissue may be regarded on its surface (both literally and figuratively) as a morbid behavior on the one hand, and as a self-help behavior on the other (Favazza and Conterio 1988). We all have methods of coping with stress, whether it is emotional, physical or psychological. Coping is a behavior, which an individual utilizes to get through stressful, and difficult times as best they can. And sometimes the methods we use are extreme, perhaps excessive in comparison to the original stress. Self-injury is an example of an extreme method, but a method that, nonetheless, serves its purpose. Mentally ill self-injurers have an increased risk of suicide, although self-injury itself in not a failed attempt at suicide. It is frequently mistaken for a suicidal gesture, but there is a clear distinction between repetitive self- injury and suicide attempts. Self-injury is intended not to kill, but rather to relieve unbearable emotional pain and many survivors regard it, paradoxically, as a form of self-preservation (Herman 1992). The reasoning behind self-injury is diverse and by no means the same for all self- injurers. Self-injurers may give a single reason for their behavior, but, more commonly, their reasons are multiple and sometimes, on the surface, seemingly conflicting. Some of the more common purposes that self-injury serves are explored below.
R RRelief from overwhelming emotions is one of the reasons given most often for self-injury. The immense internal psychic pressure felt from overwhelming emotions can seem uncontrollable, frightening, and dangerous. People who self-injure have often not learned to identify, express, or release their emotions. Most have never developed the ability to feel and express emotions as others do. They may not have been allowed to show or release their true emotions. Yet their feelings still exist, whether they show them or not. They may have adopted self-injury as a strategy for getting relief from these intense feelings (Alderman 1997). The relief gained from these emotions is rapid, but temporary. The effectiveness of self-injury, at the moment, to provide relief and release is one of the reasons why self-injurers find it so difficult to stop.
PHPPhysical expression of emotional pain is one way for the self-injurer to provide evidence/confirmation of their psychological suffering. Self-injurers speak of their wounds and their scars as being a way to see the pain they feel inside. That by causing these injuries they are bringing their pain out to be seen and perhaps healed. Often, individuals who engage in self-injury tend to minimize or doubt their own internal experiences. Physically expressing the emotional pain allows them to have concrete evidence of intangible, amorphous, or indefinable emotions (Alderman 1997). Self-injury speaks loudly of the pain the individual feels long before they have the words to express it.
U UUnreality, numbness and dissociation are experienced by many self-injurers. Dissociation is something that most of us have experienced, through such breaks in consciousness as daydreaming or driving past your exit from the motorway. Even though everyone dissociates to some degree at times, for some it is a defense mechanism, protecting them in the face of intolerable emotional pain. After a time, this too becomes intolerable, and self-injury may become a means for reducing, preventing, or ending a disturbing dissociative state. At times, the emotionally numb state may extend to physical anesthesia, so that severe injuries may be inflicted with a minimum of pain (Moskovitz 1996). Although we all dissociate, most of us do not fear that we will physically and/or psychologically disintegrate. What makes it different for self- injurers is that they feel they are shattering - falling apart. One woman uses the analogy of a magician taking a dollar and tearing it into many pieces. He waves his wand, mumbles some words and 'presto' the dollar is whole again. She says she feels like that dollar, ripped up into may pieces, she cuts and 'presto' she feels whole again.
SE SSelf Punishment and Self Hate may well be the simplest and most easily understood explanation of self-injury. Histories of childhood abuse (physical, sexual, and/or emotional) are represented in a high proportion of individuals who self-injure. Common with childhood abuse is the child erroneously blaming themselves for their abuse. Many children believe that they deserved everything they got, they somehow asked for it, and that they are innately bad. These lessons from childhood often remain and influence their treatment of themselves. They are unduly critical of themselves, leading to feelings of shame and blame, which then leads to self-punishment for their perceived transgression. Many self-injurers have been taught that many thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we take for granted, such as feeling angry and having needs are bad and deserve punishment. When these are aroused in them their self-hate is emphasized and they feel they have to pay. Many describe the letting of their blood, the essence of their life force, as getting rid of some of the badness.
SE SSelf Nurturing may seem to be in conflict with the act of intentionally hurting oneself, but self-injury has a self-nurturing component for some individuals through the self-care they are able to give to themselves afterwards, and through the making on internal wounds external there is also an attempt to heal oneself. Feeling that they are alone and that no one cares is common with self-injurers. A gain from their injuries is the care they give to themselves. One self-injurer described it as 'an excuse to take care of and be gentle with myself'. Self-mutilation may also be therapeutic because of the symbolism associated with the formation of scar tissue; scar tissue indicates that healing has occurred. Thus, with a few strokes of a razor the self-cutter may unleash a symbolic process in which the sickness within is removed and the stage is set for healing as evidenced by a scar. The cutter, in effect, performs a primitive sort of self-surgery, complete with tangible evidence of healing (Favazza 1996)."
Th TThe Helpline site has a lot of great information as to how to deal with people who cut. It is difficult as an outsider to relate to things we don't understand. My hope in this post is that you as a reader would better understand this. I am greatly concerned at the prevalence in the South African youth culture. In some circles, due to the 'emo' trend, it is actually a requirement. If we as the role models of these kids don't show them better, more constructive ways to deal with life then the statistics will only climb.
Tk TThank you for reading this post and joining me in the fight for our youth. If this is a topic that interests you as it does me another organisation to look at is To Write Love on Her Arms. It is a organisation focussed on awareness of SI, depression and other such things with a Biblical perspective. The link to investigate is To Write Love on Her Arms.