Oftentimes when individuals hear the words self-mutilation they imagine gruesome, bloody images of cuts, burns, bruises, and other markings. Self-harm is a growing epidemic in the world today and in recent times has been considered “glamorized” by television shows, movies, and social media. Self-harm can be self-inflicted cuts, burns, scratches, bruises, broken bones, refusing to take medications, refusing to eat, excessive eating, excessive alcohol or drug use, or anything else causing damage to oneself.
As a therapist I cringe at the word “cutter” used to describe someone who engages in non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors. Someone’s behavior or way of coping does not define who they are as an individual. When individuals engage in self-harming behavior there are a number of reasons they do so, including self-hatred, feeling numb, trauma, an inability to verbalize emotions, wanting to punish oneself, and yes, at times, as a “cry for help.”
As a clinician, I have helped hundreds of individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors from childhood to adulthood, and I have treated both males and females. I continue to educate myself on ways to help individuals who want to extinguish this behavior, and if there is ambivalence regarding ending the behavior, I work with clients to manage their urges and ensure they are safe if they choose to engage in the behavior (i.e. wound care, telling a trusted individual before or after, actively engaging in a safe coping skill before deciding to act on the urge in hopes of deterring the behavior).
Self-harming behaviors are not indicative of suicidality. Can they coincide together, yes; however, one does not cause the other. While talking about self-harm and suicidality may seem uncomfortable, what’s more uncomfortable is the potential for an act of self-harm going too far and not being able to process it afterward due to it being too late. Do not be afraid to talk to your loved ones about self-injurious behaviors, one question could open a door of communication to change that behavior forever.