Nobody knows the prevalence of self-injurious behavior, but it occurs much more frequently than people think. It can be associated with a history of abuse or psyche trauma, eating disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and (what is termed) borderline personality disorder. I’ve been thinking of writing about this since I saw a young lady who had carved “help” into her thigh.
Individuals who carry out self-injurious behavior want to hurt themselves, they are unable to resist acting on that desire, they intend to cause themselves injury, not death. While this is not a step toward suicide, there is an overlap in psychopathology and, therefore, you may see both in the same individuals (as was the case in the young lady I mentioned above).
Self-injurious behavior is addictive, just like drugs. The underlying drive varies person to person and, at times, from episode to episode. Self-injury may allow for the release of an incredible “tension”, at least temporarily. The pain involved may allow the individual to feel “real” and alive. It may “connect them to the present”. It may allow the individual to control their “environment”, to control themselves. Yes, it may be used to influence others, but this is the least likely reason behind the action. The “reasons” are many.
These folks need help. Using this as a coping behavior is fraught with danger, as you might imagine. In one study, 20% of adolescents who self-injured in this way required medical attention for that self-injury. As well, the underlying psyche pain, the pain that is worse than the physical pain delivered in self-injury, needs some other treatment. Help is available and those involved in these behaviors need to know that and that it is OK to seek help for this serious problem.