Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why women are into ‘self-harming'

In general, ‘self-harming’ is the result of an inability to cope with problems in healthy ways. A person might have a hard time in regulating, expressing or understanding her/his emotions.

‘Self-harming’ or ‘Deliberate self-harming’ is also known as ‘self-injury’ which is a term given to those who deliberately harm themselves. The most frequent form of self-injury is skin-cutting. Normally, the cuttings are not too deep. In addition, it includes burning, overdose, scalding, punching, banging, or bruising their body in some way. Some pull out their skin and pick their skin.

Self-harming might bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, yet, it follows the feelings of guilt and shame and the painful emotions might return after the particular incident.
Causes of self-harming

There is no definite cause for a person to act like this. It is more or less like a symptom of other mental disorders. According to DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), ‘self-harming’ categorised as a symptom of Borderline personality disorder which is a subtype of Personality Disorders. It can also be due to physical abuse, sexual abuse or eating disorders, low self esteem and perfectionism.

Often the person does not feel pain or distress during the act, but, often feelings of relief and satisfaction have been described as soon as the act has accomplished the desired effect. Someone who cuts themselves habitually might say that they feel overwhelming feelings before the event, feels no pain during the cutting. But, they get a great relief once blood has been drawn. The person does not mean to do themselves serious injury. However, in certain occasions, the damage can end up being life threatening if overdose is severe or blood loss is great.Reasons given for self-harming have included feeling useless and desperate, having feelings of guilt or being ashamed, great sadness, a loss of reality or simply feeling numb towards life in general. Whatever the reasons given, most individuals have their own unique experience, motivation, emotional backgrounds for wanting to harm themselves.


For most individuals there will be some sort of underlying reason for this problem. This may be that they have suffered some sort of abuse in the past, be in an abusive relationship, and have got extremely low self-esteem for some reason or that they feel deep guilt caused by their previous behaviour or actions.

‘Self-harming’ is widespread than most people think. It is a subject that is mostly connected to females. The reason might be the different techniques that both men and women apply to cope up their matters. For example, the way of men expressing the strong feelings such as anger, irritation, and annoyance are different from the way of women expressing themselves. Most often men act violently and talk harshly, while women remain in silent and calm. Evidence has found that women are up to four times more likely than men to self-harm. Several myths are there with regard to ‘self-harming'. One might think that it is a failed suicide attempt. This is not exactly true since it is one way of carrying on with life, not of dying. Furthermore, it is not that the person is seeking only attention from others, but, their expected final outcome is to release the tension and pain that they are unable to cope. ‘Self-harming’ is also not a sign of madness, yet, it is a sign of distress and a sign of a person who is trying to cope with her or his life as best she or he can. These patients do not harm others as many think. Therefore, the fear which most of us have is irrelevant.

Self-harming is a complicated problem that affects many women in Europe than in Asia. This does not mean that it is a rare disorder in Asia. Experts estimate that about 1 percent of the population has self-harmed.


First, it is very important to know that if a person starts self-harming, it is very difficult to stop it since it is an addictive behaviour. Therefore, the patients need to seek professional help and treatment initially, it is important to treat the injury whether this be controlling severe bleeding, treating infection or undertaking an overdose. Once the immediate medical problems have been dealt with, the underlying, psychological problems must be addressed. To treat the person properly, he or she should be able to admit that he/she has a problem and want to discover the source and address the problem in a different way.

The use of behavioural therapies, group therapies, counselling or other proven method of addressing psychological problems could be used. These will have a greater success rate if they are addressed using professional guidance from those who are specially trained in this area. Cognitive-behavioural therapy might help a person to realise the reason of doing it. It also helps to cope up with their problems without hurting themselves physically. Eye Movement desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) which is a form of psychotherapy used to help with post-traumatic disorder.It may be beneficial to the persons to gain confidence in their own abilities and also by ensuring they have a supportive network around them. This can be done through their friends and family or the person who is helping them overcome the problem. Communication plays an important role while addressing the problem and the person should not be embarrassed or ashamed of confiding their deepest feelings with others whom they cannot trust. Drugs might also be helpful up to a certain limit. Some drugs might be very addictive. However, it is important to know that the type of treatment which is most effective is different from person to person.

The Sunday Observer By Harshani A. Pinnawala
- The writer holds an MSc in Psychology