Approximately 1% of the population has, at one time or another, used self-inflicted physical injury as a means of coping with an overwhelming situation or feeling. ASHIC - the American Self-Harm Information Clearinghouse - strives to increase public awareness of the phenomenon of self-inflicted violence and the unique challenges faced by self-injurers and the people who care about them.
Self-harm scares people. The behavior can be disturbing and difficult to understand, and it is often treated in a simplistic or sensational manner by the press. As a result, friends and loved ones of people who self-injure often feel frightened, isolated, and helpless. Sometimes they resort to demands or ultimatums as a way of trying to regain some control over the situation, only to see things deteriorate further.
The first step toward coping with self-injurious behavior is education: bringing reliable information about who self-injures, why they do it, and how they can learn to stop to people who self-injure and to their friends, loved ones, and medical caregivers. ASHIC was founded to meet this need for honest, accurate information.
Self-harm, also known as self-injury, self-inflicted violence, self-injurious behavior, or self-mutilation, can be defined as the deliberate, direct injury of one's own body that causes tissue damage or leave marks for more than a few minutes and that is done in order to deal with an overwhelming or distressing situation.
It's important to remember that, even though it may not be apparent to an outside observer, self-injury is serving a function for the person who does it. Figuring out what functions it serves and helping someone learn other ways to get those needs met is essential to helping people who self-harm. Some of the reasons self-injurers have given for their acts include:
See Osuch, Noll, & Putnam, Psychiatry 62 (Winter
99), pp: 334-345
People who self-injure often never developed healthy ways to feel and express emotion or to tolerate distress. Studies have shown that self-harm can put a person at a high level of physiological arousal back to a baseline state.
It's natural to want to help people who self-injure develop healthier ways of coping when they feel overwhelmed, but it's important not to let your discomfort with the concept of self-harm cause you to issue ultimatums, punish self-harming behavior, or threaten to leave if the person self-harms again. Ideally, you should set boundaries to keep yourself feeling safe while respecting the person's right to make his or her own decisions about how to deal with stress.
Common Myths about Self-Injury
Self-harm is usually a failed suicide attempt.
People who self-injure are crazy and should be locked
"Fear can lead to dangerous overreactions. In dealing with clients who hurt themselves, you will probably feel fear. . . . Hospitalizing clients for self-inflicted violence is one such form of overreaction. Many therapists, because they do not possess an adequate understanding of SIV, will use extreme measures to assure (they think) their clients' best interests. However, few people who self-injure need to be hospitalized or institutionalized. The vast majority of self-inflicted wounds are neither life threatening nor require medical treatment. Hospitalizing a client involuntarily for these issues can be damaging in several ways. Because SIV is closely related to feelings of lack of control and overwhelming emotional states, placing someone in a setting that by its nature evokes these feelings is very likely to make matters worse, and may lead to an incident of SIV. In addition, involuntary hospitalization often affects the therapeutic relationship in negative ways, eroding trust, communication, rapport, and honesty. Caution should be used when assessing a client's level of threat to self or others. In most cases, SIV is not life threatening. . . . Because SIV is so misunderstood, clinicians often overreact and provide treatment that is contraindicated.
People who self-harm are just trying to get attention.
Self-inflicted violence is just an attempt to manipulate
Only people with Borderline Personality Disorder
If the wounds aren't "bad enough," self-harm isn't
Only teen-aged girls self-injure.
The American Self-Harm Information Clearinghouse strives to educate the general public and medical and psychological professionals about the phenomenon of self-harm. We hope that by disseminating clear, concise, and accurate information about self-harm, we can improve the treatment that those who cope with distress by injuring themselves receive from hospitals, physicians, therapists, and their own families and friends.
The more people know about the realities of self-inflicted violence, the less fearful and stigmatizing they will be when confronted with it. ASHIC's main project to date has been National Self-Injury Awareness Day (March 1, 2002). Other services we offer now are:
We are working on an informational booklet to be released in summer 2002, as well.
Materials can be requested by sending a stamped, self-addressed
E-mail inquires should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone inquiries should be directed to Deb Martinson at 206-604-8963.