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Why do people cut themselves and cause self injury?

Why Do People Cut Themselves and Cause Self-Injury?

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Why do people cut themselves, burn themselves, or otherwise cause potentially irreversible harm to their own bodies? Self-injury is a dangerous maladaptive behavior that is often a sign of serious psychological distress. But when someone gets the help they need, they can overcome their self-defeating urges and pursue a much healthier future.

What is Self-Injury?

Self-injury, which is also referred to as self-harm, self-mutilation, and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), refers to a variety of behaviors that involve the intentional infliction of pain or damage to one’s own body. 

People who are compelled to hurt themselves often engage in one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Cutting or burning their skin
  • Pulling their hair out
  • Hitting their head or other body parts against walls or other hard objects
  • Punching themselves 
  • Picking at their skin and preventing wounds from fully healing
  • Restricting their food intake
  • Exercising excessively

As the term NSSI indicates, a self-injurious behavior is not a suicide attempt. However, people who intentionally harm themselves are at risk of accidental death. Also, a history of self-injury may increase the likelihood that a person will later consider suicide.

When trying to answer questions such as “Why do people cut themselves?” it is also important to understand that self-harm is not a mental health disorder itself. However, it is often (but not always) a symptom of an underlying mental health concern.

What Causes Self-Injurious Behavior?

If you have discovered that someone in your life has been engaging in self-injury, you may be confused about why they would choose such a destructive habit. The reality is that, in many cases, self-injury isn’t a choice, but the result of an overwhelming compulsion. 

As we noted at the end of the previous section, this compulsion is sometimes a symptom of a mental health disorder. In other cases, it may be a response to overwhelming stress or another external influence. 

Why Do People Cut Themselves?

There is no single, universally applicable answer to the question, “Why do people cut themselves?” Some people who do this may have a distinct purpose, while others may be acting on an urge that they don’t fully understand. 

Having established that, the following are possible reasons why people may cut themselves:

  • They feel as though their life has spiraled out of control. Cutting themselves is a way to feel like they are exerting some control over their body.
  • They are struggling with deep emotional pain, and cutting themselves is a means of giving physical form to their psychological distress.
  • They are punishing themselves for a perceived flaw, failure, or shortcoming.

No matter why a person cuts or otherwise harms themselves, they should be assessed by a qualified healthcare professional to determine which type and level of care can help them end this dangerous behavior.

What Are the Signs of Self-Injury?

Signs and symptoms of self injury and cuttingMost people who feel compelled to harm themselves go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their self-injurious behavior. However, it can be difficult to keep this a secret from close friends and family members. 

The following signs could indicate that someone in your life has been engaging in intentional self-injury:

  • Always wearing long sleeves and/or long pants, even during periods of hot weather (which can be an attempt to hide scarring or other skin damage)
  • Refusing to change clothes in front of others or go swimming with friends (which can also reflect a desire to hide scars or other signs of harm)
  • Having cuts, bruises, burns or other injuries that never seem to fully heal
  • Carrying knives, needles, matches, lighters, or other potential instruments of self-injury with them at all times
  • Eating considerably more or less than they used to
  • Exercising more often (or more intensely) than is healthy
  • Frequently making highly critical or otherwise negative comments about themselves
  • Becoming extremely upset when they fall short of a goal or standard that they set for themselves
  • Spending considerable amounts of time alone
  • Exhibiting dramatic changes in mood and attitude

If you suspect that someone you care about has been engaging in self-harm, please understand that your friend or family member may be in crisis. Don’t ignore your suspicions. Talk to your loved one about what you have noticed and encourage them to get the help they need.

Types of Treatment for Self-Injurious Behavior

Treatment for self-injurious behavior can vary depending on several personal factors. One of the most important of these factors is the cause of the self-injury. Is this behavior symptomatic of a mental health disorder, or was it triggered by something else? 

Following a thorough assessment to identify the full scope of the individual’s needs, one of the first decisions their treatment team will make is choosing the optimal level of care. At Montare Behavioral Health, level-of-care options include:

Some people may receive care at all three of these levels, starting with inpatient treatment and then stepping down to the PHP and IOP levels for additional support. Others may receive care at only one or two of these levels. What’s most important is identifying the program or programs that best align with each patient’s needs and goals. 

Resources for Those Who Need Help 

The following self-harm support resources may be helpful for individuals who have been engaging in this behavior, as well as for their loved ones:

Also, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) sponsors Self-Injury Awareness Day every year on March 1. Features of this annual observance include educating the public about signs and symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options for self-injury.

Contact Our Mental Health Treatment Center in Los Angeles, California

Montare Behavioral Health offers a full continuum of customized services for adults who have been engaging in self-harm and other maladaptive behaviors. At our center, you can expect to receive focused care from a team of compassionate professionals, all within a safe and highly supportive environment. We can help you identify the root cause of your behavioral struggles, then provide the individualized treatment that will help you regain control of your thoughts and actions.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today.