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Self-Injury Disorder (SID) refers to pain or injury intentionally and compulsively inflicted on one's own body without the intent of committing suicide. It is usually present when a person is trying to cope with emotional stress.

SID is also referred to as Self-Inflicted Violence (SIV) or Self Injurious Behavior (SIB).

Symptoms of Self-Injury Disorder

The typical observable behaviors that a person with this disorder displays include:

  • cutting
  • scratching
  • burning
  • punching self
  • bruising or breaking bones
  • hair pulling
  • head banging
  • scab picking
  • self biting
  • puncturing the skin with objects
  • swallowing corrosive chemicals, batteries, pins…

This injury may be aimed at relieving otherwise unbearable emotions, sensations of unreality and numbness, or for other reasons.

Psychiatrists still disagree whether self-injury is a diagnosis or a symptom of a disorder. One thing is certan though - self-injurers suffer shame and isolation. It is estimated that self-injurers comprise at least 1% of the population, with a higher proportion being female, and nearly half admitting to being victims of physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood. That is a great number!

Risk factors for developing SID

A number of social or psychological factors have been linked with self-harm. People experiencing various forms of mental illnesses are considered to be at higher risk of self-harming.

Key issues are:

  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Conduct disorders
  • Substance
  • Impulsivity
  • Hopelessness
  • Aggression
  • Asperger's
  • Abuse during childhood
  • Troubled parental or partner relationships
  • Factors such as war, poverty, and unemployment

Possible causes of developing SID

In most cases there is no simple reason why people intentionally injure themselves.

Each abuser has their own reason for this kind of behavior. People often do so to relieve anger, because they are under pressure, suffer from depression, or feel guilt or shame.  SID has also been linked to people who are victims of abuse or neglect and those who do not receive adequate protection People who harm themselves can be: male or female; straight, gay, or bisexual; high-school kids or students; rich or poor; from any country in the world. Their ages range from early teens to early 60s.  

Purpose of self-injuring

There are several theories which tried to explain this disorder.

It reduces physiological and psychological tension rapidly
Several studies have suggested that some people get emotionally pleased by injuring themselves. This act supposedly brings their levels of psychological and physiological tension and arousal back to a bearable baseline level. All this tension relieving happens almost immediately

Some people never get a chance to learn how to cope effectively
A factor that seems to be common among people who self-injure is invalidation.  Most of them were taught at an early age that their interpretations of the things around them were wrong.  In abusive homes, they may have been severely punished for expressing certain thoughts and feelings. Although a history of abuse is common about self-injurers, not everyone who self-injures was abused.  Sometimes invalidation and lack of role models for coping are enough.

Problems with neurotransmitters may play a role
It is well known fact that neurotransmitter serotonin has a big role in depression development and some scientists think that problems with seratonin levels may also predispose some people to self-injury, aggressive and impulsive behaviour. With time this aggression, combined with a belief that their feelings are bad or wrong, can lead to the aggression being turned on the self.

Diagnosis of Self-Injury Disorder

If an individual shows signs of self-injury, a mental health professional with self-injury expertise should be consulted. The mental health professional will be able to make an evaluation and recommend a course of treatment. Self-injury can be a symptom of psychiatric illness including:

  • Personality disorders (particularly borderline personality disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Anxiety disorders (particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
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