Self-mutilation – Definition
Self-mutilation or self-injury is any form of self-harm inflicted on your body without the intent to commit suicide. Self-mutilation is a compulsive act that may be performed to release emotional pain, anger, or anxiety; to rebel against authority; to flirt with risk-taking; or to feel in control. In some cases, the behavior is outside your emotional control and related to a neurological or metabolic disorder.
The behavior is not considered socially appropriate. It is also not part of a religious custom or a form of art.
Self-mutilation – Causes
Self-mutilation is a severe impulse control disorder that is often associated with other psychiatric disorders, such as:
- Borderline personality disorder (most common)
- Substance abuse ( alcoholism or drug abuse)
- Eating disorders ( anorexia or bulimia)
- Antisocial personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
It can also be associated with neurologic or metabolic disorders such as:
- Syringomyelia (a disorder where cysts form on the spinal cord)
- Tourette syndrome (a neurological disorder)
- Autism (a disorder that results in social, behavioral, and language problems)
- Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (a genetic disorder)
Self-mutilation – Risk Factors
These factors increase your chance of developing this condition. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
- Childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
- Violence or other abusive relationships in childhood home
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Being in prison
- Sex: female
- Age: adolescence
- Intellectual disability
- Certain metabolic disorders
Self-mutilation – Symptoms
The symptoms of self-mutilation vary. The most common symptoms include:
- Cutting of skin with a sharp object (most common)
- Skin carving or burning
- Self-punching or scratching
- Needle sticking
- Head banging
- Eye pressing
- Finger, lips, or arm biting
- Pulling out one’s hair
- Picking at one’s skin
Rarely, in very severe cases, self-mutilation can include:
- Broken bones
Self-mutilation – Diagnosis
Self-mutilation can be difficult to diagnose. People who self-mutilate often feel guilty and ashamed about their behavior and may try to hide it. A doctor may first see the physical harm caused by self-mutilation. To be diagnosed, symptoms should meet the following criteria:
- Preoccupation with physically harming oneself
- Inability to resist self-injurious behavior resulting in tissue damage
- Increased tension before and a sense of relief after self-injury
- Having no suicidal intent in the self-mutilation
To make an accurate diagnosis, the psychologist or psychiatrist will assess other conditions, like personality or mood disorders, and whether there is suicidal intent.
Self-mutilation – Treatment
Treatment usually includes medical and psychological treatment, as well as medications.
A doctor will assess whether care needs to be provided immediately to prevent further harm due to ingestion, wound, or other bodily harm.
This assessment may be administered to assess a person’s mental capacity, level of distress, and presence of mental illness.
Psychologic treatment may be done either one-to-one or in a group setting. It is usually aimed at finding and treating the underlying emotional difficulty, trauma, or disorder. It may also include cognitive behavioral therapy.
Medications used include:
- Mood regulators
Self-mutilation – Prevention
The best preventative measure is to get help as soon as possible for depression, trauma, emotional problems, or other disorders that may lead to self-mutilation.