People who self-mutilate



Living on the Edge  

Joy Green,
writing in the October 1997 issue of The North Star On-line

People who self-mutilate.  That sounds like a prime topic for a trashy talk-show doesn't it?  Self-injury is actually a disease in which a person purposely damages his or her body without trying to kill themselves.  Self-injury is sometimes called self-mutilation, self-harm, and many other terms.  The injuries that people give themselves from this range from limb amputation to over-zealous scratching. 

Self-injury is attracting a lot of attention from the media and many other sources, from rock stars who glorify self abuse to teen-oriented magazines that warn against the dangers and the causes of self-injury.  Some people are attempting to become more educated on this disease by learning about why or when it occurs.  Self-mutilation is sometimes an associated feature of other diseases such as Multiple Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. 

A typical self-mutilator begins during late childhood and can continue 10-15 years, unless the self-mutilation becomes chronic.  There are many common factors in those who are self  harmers.  These factors include substance abuse, violence at home, and perfectionist patterns. 

You may be wondering how you can identify a person who self-mutilates.  Usually, you can't.  "People who self-injure are often difficult to recognize because they are professionals at covering up the marks that are left behind from abuse, much like the battered woman or the anorexic." claims Vybthua Vietmier, a social worker at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.  So how can you help?  You can help a person with a tendency to self-harm by listening. 

People who self-injure are often thought of, by society, as being "different" or even "crazy."  Those who self-injure are often ostracized due to their disease.  The stigma hinders many of these people from getting help.  Those who self-injure also tend to not confide in people for fear that the other person will view them negatively. 

 Due to fear of ostracization, self-mutilators are not diagnosed properly.  This is because doctors will sometimes believe that self-injury is actually another disease.  The results of such diagnoses could have adverse affects on the person who self-mutilates. 

 The key to stopping the behavior of these people is helping them control those urges.  A person who suffers from self-mutilation needs to have other positive sources convincing them that there is another way to operate in life besides self-injury.  Some resources on self-injury, the disease and how to help cure it, can be found in books such as Self-Cutting: Can it be prevented? By K. Hawton.  There are also Internet resources which include a web page titled Secret Shame, located at  You can also call local hospitals and ask them to refer you to someone who is an expert on self-injury. 

If you know someone who is a victim of self-mutilation, remember that those people are not "freaks" but people with legitimate diseases, and are truly suffering.