Self-injury is a behavior people rely on to relieve or distract themselves from difficult feelings, or to communicate emotions that they seem unable to speak. Several teens have asked me via comments on Teen Health 411 for help with self-injury and up until now, all I could do was refer them to counselors, and 1-800-DONT CUT at Self Abusive Finally Ends (SAFE). Now I am pleased to say that I can encourage them to purchase the book "Bodily Harm," as well.
Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader are founders of the first short-term self-injury treatment program (SAFE) in the country and together with Jennifer Kingson Bloom, they have written a book that provides help for self-injurers, as well as support for the people who love them or treat them.
Most importantly, this book addresses the hopeless and desperate feelings of the self-injurer, who with the principles of this book can choose a more meaningful and productive life, and realize that they are not alone. Not that treatment is easy - there is no easy way to break a highly comforting pattern of behavior, but this book tells a self-injurer how to start the treatment process and provides the support and many of the "tools" s/he will need. There is even a 90-item questionnaire included in the book to help a self-injurer pay attention to issues to consider when deciding to seek help.
I cannot say that I really understand self-injury, but after reading this book, my heart goes out to every person suffering alone with this secret. There is no "typical" self-injurer, but many are successful (on the outside), female, middle-class, white, and intelligent, with low self-esteem and trouble forming intimate relationships. There is no "cause" of self-injury, although many of the people who choose self-injury perceived their childhoods and parenting as traumatic, and many were physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
How will you know I'm hurting If you cannot see my pain? To wear it on my body Tells what words cannot explain. - C. Blount
There is a great chapter for families included in the book with questions and answers about how to discuss your concerns and how best to support the self-injurer. There is a useful section on warning signs of self-injury, which include scars on the arms or legs, a pattern of curious abrasions, wearing long sleeves, social withdrawal, sensitivity to rejection, difficulty handling anger, and behaviors that frequently accompany self-injury including compulsive behavior, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and kleptomania.
Another chapter was written to help therapists who treat self-injurers and there are appendices with tools like samples of no harm contracts and an impulse control log in the back of the book. The book points out that the wish to self-injure is a thought, not a feeling and that self-injury is a behavior that has been distracting the person from difficult feelings, and a behavior that can be changed. The impulse log is a tool to help the self-injurer see that the desire to self-injure is a signal that s/he is experiencing a feeling - anger, sadness, loneliness - that can be addressed without self-injury.
If you are suffering, please do not delay seeking treatment. The earlier the better and remember, you are not alone! You can have a life that is stable and comfortable!