What Is Self-Harm in Adults?

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The journal Psychological Medicine found that nearly 6% of adults have engaged in self-harm at some point in their lives.  While more people are opening up about self-harm, it is still a sensitive subject. Much of the general public doesn’t fully understand what it is and why people do it. Also known as self-injury, self-harm is the general term for someone intentionally harming themselves, and it can take on various forms such as cutting or burning.

An adult may engage in self-injury in a number of ways. Examples include cutting, picking at scars and wounds, extreme scratching, pulling out hair, burning oneself, self-hitting, or breaking a bone on purpose. There are various effective evidence-based methods for self-harm treatment, and they typically help people learn to manage emotions in a healthy way, to help them feel in control again.

Reasons Adults Cause Self-Harm

Adults practice self-injurious behavior for several reasons. It is a mistake to believe that people self-harm in order to get attention. The majority of adults who self-harm do it as a method of coping with a stressor in their life. This is why behavioral therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for self-mutilation is so important; it provides the person with the necessary tools to handle stressful emotions without causing injury.

Along with using it as a coping mechanism, reasons an adult engages in self-injury behaviors include:

  • Emotional – self-harm may help one release emotions, increase good-feeling emotions, or to replace emotional numbness.
  • Behavioral health conditions – self-injury may be a symptom of a behavioral health condition such as anxiety, depression, borderline personality, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attack, or eating disorders.
  • Punishment – people may self-mutilate because of feelings of self-hatred or criticism, and causing injury is a form of punishment that makes them feel better.
  • History of abuse – people who have experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse tend to be at a higher risk of causing harm to themselves.

Importance of Getting Help

The vast majority of people who engage in self-harming behaviors are not trying to fatally injure themselves. However, over time, this habit of causing self-harm can lead to feeling suicidal. Self-injury behavior is a serious condition that people should take seriously.

Those that engage in self-harm typically feel shame and, as a result, they often hide the signs. The behavior can also become compulsive and even seem like an addition, and this means it may take a while for them to finally seek treatment. There are a lot of resources for those who are ready to face their condition, and they should not feel ashamed for taking control of the situation.

The first thing people should do is talk with someone who knows about the subject. This may be a friend or health professional, although a psychiatrist is probably the best choice. Talking about life history, health conditions, and the types of harmful behavior, a psychiatrist can determine the best method of treatment. Medication is sometimes prescribed, but therapy is often the best method for learning new behavior tactics. The different types of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – emphasis on improving coping skills and removing patterns around negative thoughts.
  • Psychodynamic therapy – focus on looking at past emotions and experiences.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) – emphasis on learning to manage stressful situations and emotions in a positive manner.

For many, self-harm has been a behavior they have been doing for a long time. As a result, it can take time to build new thought patterns and coping skills, but Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare has the tools to get them back on track.

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