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Afflictions Of The Soul: The Truth Behind Self Injury 1 of 3
For the next few days, I will be reposting chapters of the essay “Afflictions Of The Soul: The Truth Behind Self Injury”.
TRIGGER WARNING: May contain discussions of graphic self injury.
Originally posted on Psyke.org.
Note: I wrote the original article a lifetime ago for a final year assessment, which ended up getting published on Psyke.org. I have made some minor edits to streamline the series to suit this platform, but nonetheless contains information I hope continues to be of use if you have ever, if you do, or if you know someone who self harms.
Now that I’ve got your attention…
Many people, in society cringe at the sound of the phrase “Self-injury”. A person deliberately harming themselves. Who would think of doing such a thing? Our community’s common fallacies and reactions towards this act tend to be negative, which isn’t helpful to those who self-injure.
Throughout the following chapters I will be investigating the clinical definition of self injury, the different stages of SI, as well as self-injurer’s definitions of the disorder. What happens in the lead up to beginning on this path, what occurs during the course of self injury, and what happens when it’s all brought into the open.
Also, to add a future cross-cultural element, I will be examining the fine line between self injury and body modification, and how the two are closely related.
This study will be based around the concepts of Persons, Society, Culture, and Environment. What age or gender is more likely to self-injure? Which of society’s values and beliefs impact on the nature of self-harm? Are certain cultures accepting of this practice? And what kind of environment “breeds” a self harmer? All these questions and more shall be answered in this paper.
“Cutting isn’t just, ‘Hey, I’m depressed and I’m going to cut myself,’ it is more like: ‘I’m so stressed, so hurt, so confused, what do I do?’ For a second, you feel as if you are in a complete state of cleanliness as if you are completely sin free because it has all seeped out with your blood. When you finally stop, the pain, stress and confusion all come back, but yet you do it over and over just for the second that you feel clean, for the second that everything for once is no longer inside of you and for the time that no matter what is happening around you it doesn’t involve you.” (“Jenny” from psyke.org)
While that may be a person’s individual experience of it, how does one begin to define Self Injury? Its meaning is so broad, yet can be summed up in itself. Harm against the self. When a person hears this term, they immediately think of the “cutters and burners”. But this disorder goes far beyond the one specific group. Any form of physical injury of the body which is intentional, is self-harm. An eating disorder is considered self-harm. Banging your head against a wall is self-harm. Drug abuse is self-harm. This increasing problem, amongst adolescents especially, delves not only into the physical, but also the psychological realm. Negative self-talk is considered self-harm. Staying in a destructive relationship is self-harm. Anything that can cause a person emotional distress when they deliberately choose not to avoid it is… self harm. (Interview #2 Dr Philomena Renna)
Self-injury can also be factored into other psychological disorders such as Alcoholism, severe obesity, Trichotillomania (compulsive ripping out hair), Kleptomania (compulsive stealing), as well as countless others. (Interview #2 Dr P. Renna)
However, for the purpose of this research task I will only be concentrating on the stereotyped aspect of SI, the “cutters and burners”. To focus on all areas of self-abuse would be too broad and difficult to investigate in only 5000 words. Each type of “self-injury” would be a small thesis in itself.
You’d be shocked to learn that this condition is quite common. Before you judge these people, first take a look at yourself. Are you a nail biter? If yes, then you’re a self-injurer too. Psychologist Armando Favazza who published one of the first books on the subject, states that self-injury is defined as intentional tissue damage of any sort against your own physical self. Sounds silly to consider something as typical as nail biting, but you have to consider the emotions behind it as well as the act. Nervous reactions, that can perhaps lead to something more…?
According to self-injury expert Favazza, self-injury falls into many, many categories, but can be classified under three levels of severity. The first level is Superficial. This section consists of the most basic levels of self-harm, such as nail biting, hair pulling and head banging. Usually they’re just what are referred to as subconscious nervous twitches, like someone biting their lip when they are worried.
The second division belongs to the mid-range, or Stereotypal self-injury. Here, is where the self-harm becomes more compulsive and apparent. This is where the category of cutting, burning, bruising, breaking bones, as well as interference with the healing of such wounds are found. The majority of self-injurers are within this section, and the levels of severity of their wounds can vary.
The final subdivision, and the most serious, is the Major, or Psychotic self harm. This rarely occurs when the individual is of stable mind, and are infrequent acts such as eye enucleation, limb removal and self-castration. These are usually performed when one is experiencing hallucinations, whether they are drug induced or not, or when one is experiencing extreme disassociation. (Favazza -1996- p23)
It is interesting to discover that this stage of mutilation is only evident in people of Judeo-Christian background. Self-injurers of Eastern spirituality and/or background, from the Asian nations are not found to be performing SI (Self-Injury) at this level of severity.
The factor of Psychotic self-harm in Judeo-Christian backgrounds may be in fact influenced by the bible. “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (wso.williams.edu/~atimofey/self_mutilation/Definition/What_is/major.html)
While I have not encountered anyone who has been a Psychotic self-harmer during my research, I have interviewed self-injurers at varying levels of the Stereotypal category. Some of which have been hospitalized because of the extent of their injuries.
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