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Compiled by Asanda Mbayimbayi

4 reasons why people cut themselves

It's important to note that people who self-harm might not always show obvious signs, and some of the signs could be similar to those of other mental health issues.

Self-harm, including cutting, is a complex and distressing behaviour that some individuals turn to as a way to cope with emotional pain, stress, or overwhelming feelings.

Understanding the motivations behind self-harm requires a compassionate exploration of individual experiences and psychological factors.

What is self-mutilation?

Self-mutilation can be manifest in different ways, like burning, scratching, hitting, or intentionally cutting the body, explains health insurance agency, Affinity Health.

As stated by The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, self-harm is referred to using various names and terms by people, with some examples being:

  • Self-harming
  • Self-inflicted violence
  • Para-suicide
  • Self-abuse
  • Self-mutilation

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How common is self-mutilation?

Self-mutilation is more widespread than commonly perceived. A comprehensive review published in 2012 in The Lancet pointed out self-injury is a notable public health issue, especially among teenagers and young adults.

The research estimated self-harm’s occurrence in this group globally ranged from 13% to 23%. It’s crucial to understand these numbers don’t represent the entire population, as they specifically focus on self-harm in young individuals.

Furthermore, self-mutilation is not restricted to certain groups or areas. It can affect individuals from various backgrounds, regardless of age, gender, financial situation, or cultural aspects.

However, some studies have indicated higher instances of self-harm in specific categories, like individuals who have faced trauma, mental health disorders (such as depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder), or those who have been victims of bullying or abuse.

Why people harm themselves
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Why do people cut themselves?

According to Affinity Health, self-harm, such as cutting, is a multifaceted occurrence that can show up in diverse manners and due to various causes. It’s important to approach this matter with care and empathy.

Although the individual reasons for self-harm might differ, there are several underlying elements:

Emotional Distress

Certain people resort to self-harm as a way to handle intense emotional suffering or discomfort. Engaging in self-harm offers a momentary feeling of relief or control, enabling them to express and externalise their inner emotional struggles.

Communication and Expression

When someone cannot express their deep emotions with words, they might use self-harm to show how they feel. Some people hurt themselves to tell others about their pain or to ask for help when they cannot say it aloud.

Emotional Numbness

Ironically, certain people involve themselves in self-harm as a way to fight against feeling emotionally numb or disconnected. They intentionally cause physical pain to experience something real, grounding themselves in the present moment.

Self-punishment and guilt

Emotions like guilt, shame, or self-dislike can drive people to hurt themselves as a way of punishing themselves. They might think they should be in pain or causing themselves physical harm can make up for things they think they did wrong.

Reasons behind self-harm
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What are the warning signs?

Identifying the signs someone might be self-harming is vital for offering help and support when needed.

It’s important to note people who self-harm might not always show obvious signs, and some of the signs could be similar to those of other mental health issues.

According to Affinity Health, the following signs should be treated seriously:

Unexplained injuries

Recurring unexpected injuries, like cuts, burns, or bruises do not have a clear explanation, especially if they appear in specific patterns or forms, could suggest self-harm. Typically, these injuries are on parts of the body easy to hide.

Wearing concealing clothing

People who engage in self-harm might choose to wear long sleeves, even when it’s hot outside, to cover up scars or recent wounds on their arms. They might also try to hide other body areas using clothing or accessories.

Isolation and withdrawal:

Avoiding social situations and pulling away from activities or relationships once enjoyed might suggest someone is going through emotional difficulties. People who self-harm often feel ashamed or guilty, which can make them want to stay away from others.

Frequent excuses or unusual behaviour:

Constantly coming up with reasons to avoid situations where they would need to show their skin, or doing things in secret, could indicate someone is self-harming. These people might also have an unusual fascination with sharp objects.

Signs of self-harm
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Common misunderstandings about self-harm

  • Suicide: While both suicide and self-harm might seem to aim for pain relief, their intended results are distinct. Individuals who self-mutilate aim to manage overwhelming emotions or gain focus, often feeling improved afterward. On the other hand, those contemplating suicide are primarily driven by feelings of hopelessness, despair, and depression.
  • Attention-seeking behaviour: People who self-harm are frequently criticised for seeking attention. However, because cutting is a way to disconnect from emotions, they generally do not want to attract notice to their wounds.
  • Dangerous to others: This is a misunderstanding, as the majority of self-harm individuals are able to function normally and do not pose any danger to others’ safety.

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