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Self-harm (mutilation): Why we injure – A book recommendation and my story

Updated on March 8, 2014
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Self-mutilation, or self-injury, is not attempted suicide. Self-injurers are not simply looking for attention. They are not trying to be rebellious or to fit in to the “Emo” crowd. Mostly, they are trying to cope. I know, I am one of them (You can read my story at the end of this hub).

Much like an alcoholic drinks, those that hurth themselves, want to relieve stress or anger, or to regain feeling when they are numb to the outside world or even to themselves. For those that have not been through it, this might seem like an impossible idea. How could gashing your arm relieve stress? Why would you hurt yourself if you are angry with someone else? What do you mean you can’t feel yourself? Yet to those that self-injure, it can make perfect sense, at least at that moment.

This article is my attempt to shed some light on this topic. First, by recommending a book that is like no other resource I have read before. Second, by sharing a little of my own experience.


Read This Book!

More than a few years back, I wrote a college paper on the reasons people self-injure. One of the books I used as a resource struck a chord with me so much so that I purchased it. And read it cover to cover. And I was blown away. The book is A Bright Red Scream: self-mutilation and the language of pain, by Marilee Strong.

I want to recommend this book to therapists, educators, family and friends of self-injurers, and those that injure themselves. This book gives insight into self injury like nothing I have read before. It is intellectual enough to be informative to academics, yet anecdotal enough to appeal to general readers.

Many books and articles on self-injury say the standard things that I said at the beginning of this a hub. They might give a list of facts, or descriptions of symptoms, or some possible causes or reasons. Oftentimes for the reader the information doesn’t mean much or sink in any deeper than the surface. This book does so much more. It puts you inside the thought process of self injurers through first-hand accounts.

Nothing brings the message of mental illness, addiction, anguish, etc. home like hearing it in the words of the person suffering it. The stories are amazing. After reading this book I felt like I understood myself and others like me like I never even knew I could.

This book does not only discuss why we self-injure. It touches on the many kinds of self-injury from scab picking to cutting to bone breaking, even body modification such as tattoos and piercing. It discusses men and women alike. It offers historical accounts, scientific information, stories from and about self injurers, about their struggle, and ends with an uplifting chapter on recovery.

My advice to anyone that knows a “cutter” or works with those that self harm is to READ THIS BOOK. It’s not going to make you an expert. You aren’t going to understand completely. Don’t pretend you can. Don’t insult your friend or your patient by saying you know what they feel. You never will. Every experience is unique. But you will have a better understanding. And hopefully you will no longer have the gross misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, that you might have at this moment.

My advice to anyone who has flirted with the idea of self harm in whatever form no matter how minimal. DON’T DO IT. Even if it you think it will help you cope. It is not going to fix the real problem. It is going to become a problem. Just like the alcoholic who started drinking to numb his pain. How well has that worked out for him?

If you are at the point of wanting to hurt yourself, you have enough problems already. You don’t need one more. Talk to a friend. A doctor. A counselor. A family member. A stranger if that’s the only way you can get the words to come out of your mouth. Or talk to no one and everyone without talking at all. Write about it. For all to see or none to ever read after it hits the page. If words aren’t your thing. Draw it. Paint it. Sculpt it. Kickbox it. Free throw it. Run. Jog. Sing. Scream. Get out the stress and the anger. Wake up your senses. And then work on the real problem. The cause of the stress. The reason for the numbness. The root of that anger. Make a step. However small. A quarter step forward is a hundred times better than half a step back. Trust me. I know. I have been there. I am there now. You are stronger than you think. We all are.

How I solved an itchy arm. I just wanted it to stop. I know better now.
How I solved an itchy arm. I just wanted it to stop. I know better now. | Source
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My Story

Suicidal attention-seeking drama queen. Self hating Emo-chick. Trying to be cool and rebellious. None of those are me. None of those explain why I was a “cutter”. I cut for stress relief. For anger release. Yes. You read that right. When the stress or the anger or the frustration got so bad that I couldn’t think of anything else. When it would keep me up at night with thoughts racing through my head and feelings crawling under my skin. How could he do that? How could they say that about me? I just want to stab someone so bad I can feel the knife in my hand. And those are just the thoughts I can explain. Those were the times I cut.

After the scalpel made that perfectly straight slice into my arm, thigh, ankle the surgically precise slit commanded my full attention. Wiping the bright red blood that slowly seeped out of it. Should I cut deeper? Make it longer? Will it stop with a bandage? Perhaps a butterfly stitch. Always careful enough to not need real stitches. No ER visits. Though on at least one occasion I probably should have went, if only to prevent the scar that will follow me for the rest of my life. Careful to stay away from any visible arteries. Careful to choose a site easy to hide. Or so I thought. What is easily hidden in winter is surprisingly visible in summer. Then come the lies to explain the cuts and scars. Or I just carefully dodged the question. Only a few people know about my cutting. Or so that’s what I think. I will never know how many have figured it out and when has gone unspoken. And I never will.

I was a cutter only for a brief time. A desperate attempt to manage stress and anger brought on by a combination of outside factors and mental issues. Thank god I have excellent self control that kept my cutting to a minimum, and kept me out of the ER. I have permanent scars, but only a few. I managed to stop on my own before it became a regular habit. Not everyone is that lucky.

When I finally got the sense and the courage to seek serious mental help, I was already on an antidepressant prescribed by my primary physician. But things still weren’t quite right and she and I knew this was outside of her ability. I began seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist.

My therapist has given me tools to help me on my way to having a better life. She also helped me find the support system that I didn’t even realize I have. It is slow going. But it is going. Most times she doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. But she holds me accountable. And sometimes just hearing myself say my thoughts out loud makes all the difference. My shrink has found meds to help me manage my depression, insomnia, aggression, etc. It’s not perfect. There is not a magic pill that is going to make me feel normal. But it’s better.

I still get the urge to cut. I don’t do it. I find another outlet. A healthy one. On the days when nothing seems to help, I take an ativan, just enough to take the edge off. Or I just let myself cry until I'm too tired to do anything but sleep. I still pick my scabs, until I have a moment of clarity and force myself to stop. I still want more holes in my ears (I have 8 earrings) and another tattoo (2 large ones already). But I really think it through before I let a needle touch my skin.

It is a constant struggle, but it gets easier every day. Thanks to my doctors, supportive friends and family, and an amazingly supportive boyfriend, I am worlds better off than I was before. And I hope by sharing my story even one person can be a little better too.

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    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      mary615 - Thank you, dear. Unfortunatley, I do still get those feelings. Fortunately, they are much less frequent, and I have vowed never to put a blade to my skin again. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky... thank you so much for your support.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      My heart goes out to you, Dana. I do hope you no longer have these feelings that made you be a "cutter". I've never personaly known someone who cuts, but I can certainly sympathize.

      You are a brave person to share your intermost feelings here.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Nell Rose - What you describe from the book you read is pretty close to the experience... It is such an odd thing, to hurt yourself to feel better.... I really hope that my story or just a little information on the topic can help some people - those that shaould seek help, and those that should help others.... thank you for having the courage to read and comment on this. Soemthing tells me there are a lot of people that dont.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Dana, first of all let me say well done for sharing this, it must have been really hard for you. I remember reading a book, just a fiction story with a girl in it who did this, she said it was like lancing a boil, the build up doing it and then the release of adrenaline that calmed her down afterwards, I remember the bit when she said she stopped and then exchanged it for really hard exercise, I have no idea if this is helpful or not, but it did give me an insight into why this happens, so your story will really help others, and this is voted awesome!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Alecia - I believe that it is an important story to share. "Cutters" should know that there are people that understand and there is help available to them. And the general public should be educated on the issue just like they are on alocohlism, drug addiction, etc.....

      Thanks for sharing this, and thank you for your FB comments. Very helpful!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you for sharing such a powerful story, I hope this helps the cutters out there who feel like they can't escape the pain. Awesome hub!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      carol7777 - Thank you. It was important for me to write this and I really do hope it helps even one person. It was also theraputic for me. I finally said "out loud' that I was a self-injurer. Thank you so much for reading and being brave and kind enough to leave a comment.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      This is quite a story and I admire you for sharing what your life was. You are very brave. Great hub and a lesson for those with this problem.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      midget38 - thanks for the heartfelt and supportive comment. Hopefully one day this condition will gat the attention and understanding that sufferers deserve. Thank you again for contributing to that battle.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Dana, this was one of the most courageous and thought provoking hubs I've ever read! I agree with you that we can never get into the minds of sufferers until we take the step to embrace their perspectives - and that we need a healthy support system. Thank you for sharing this wonderful book - time that someone took the time to reveal perspectives instead of just advising without empathy!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Linda (Sunshine) - thank you for you supprt. It really makes me sad for those still suffering because of how taboo this subject still is. I took a college level abnormal psych course and I don't think it was ever even mentioned. Its such a shame because feeling isolated and alone makes healing so much more difficult.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Bravo Dana for reaching out to help others by sharing your "painful" journey. Wishing you nothing but the best :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      I want to take a minute to say THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who has taken the time to read and comment on this hub. It is a very sensitive subject that a lot of people shy away from. Support from people like you means the world to those who feel stuck hididng in shadows.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Pamela - Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Writing about my struggles helps me to continue on the right path and will hopefully guve soem help and comfort to others.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      fpherj48 - Thank you for the hug and kind words. I have done a lot of growing and a person and am lucky enough to have a small droup of very supportive friends. And thanks to hubbers like you that support system has grown exponentially and it have given me a chance to write about an issue I feel strongly about.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      You really are a brave person to have gone through all you have and now to share it so that others can perhaps get on a path of healing.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Dana...you are a sweet, loving and beautiful person for sharing your story so that you may help others. Such courage and honesty is to be commended. It is amazing that you have been so strong and found your way through this by your own substance and inner strength.

      I hope you don't mind...but I'm sending you a big hug along with my wish for peace always. UP++

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      tillsontitan - THANK YOU! being so close to it I forget how foreign the issue is to most people. I hope at least one person is helped by this.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      I have to say this hub goes beyond brave and courageous, it is heroic and enlightening. I applaud you for writing this and so openly allowing everyone into your private world. No one can read this and walk away untouched. You bring insight into a scary problem that many know nothing about. This is a truly great piece that needs to be read and shared which is what I'm doing. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thundermama - thank you for your wonderfule words. It is really a topic I feel strongly about because it is still so tabboo and misunderstood and that does such a disservice to the sufferers... I wrote a research paper about the topic in college and my professor asked for a copy. Guess I shoulda realized then I was meant to write about it. Better late then never right? Thanks again.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 5 years ago from Canada

      Dana, what a powerful hub. They need to have a "courageous," button in the feedback section. Thank you so much for sharing and your book recommendation.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      maggs224 - Words cannot express what your comment means to me. so I will just say thank you, and your welcome... Considering it has been around for such a long time, it amazes me how little people know about this topic, or even know that it exists at all. There is still such a stigma that is attached and so many misconceptions... I hope one day that self-injurers can gain the acceptance and support that they so desperately need. And I feel strongly that the book I reccomend is a step in the right direction.... Thank you again. Take care!

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny Spain

      An excellent Hub on a very difficult subject, sensitively written in a way that holds the reader right to the last word I have voted you up and hit the useful and interesting buttons too.

      Thank you for being brave enough to share your story I am sure that it will help many people gain a little insight into a very little known and misunderstood problem. This hub has certainly helped me

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Bill, thank you so much for the compliment. And for the boost! That book and the subject are something I feel very strongly about. Now if I could just get the other things swirling around in my head and my heart to come out as good... You your support has meant a great deal to me in my times of doubt... As always, looking forward to your next hub! Take Care.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dana, this is your best work by far...I'm going to share this on a writer's site on Facebook...we need to get you more followers.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Barnsey. No offense at all. You are among the few people who seem to "get it". And about yourself, I am not a psychologist, but from what I do know, that could have been your version of self mutilation. In actuality, it should be referred to as self-injury (a point stressed in the book). With men, things like bone breaking and head banging are much more common than cutting. It seems that like me, you have found a healthier way to cope with your anger and stress. Unfortunatley a lot of people are not so lucky... I hope that even just one person reads this hub and your post and decides to get help, or gets help for a loved one... Thank you for your post and stay strong.

    • Barnsey profile image

      Barnsey 5 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      I do not know If you read my hubs about being a medical transport driver and if you did I hope you were not offended. As I said in those hubs I often became friends with my clients and it was heartbreaking to stand by while they struggled with their issues. There were a couple women who were referred to as self mutilators but honestly if I hadn't seen evidence or had them tell me about it themselves I would never have known what they were doing.

      I never understood it but I did come to recognize that these women were normal in every way except for one. As you explained they felt they needed that release to relieve stress and worry. In one girl's case she confided that she did it in order to forget. She had been abused as a child and nearly into adulthood.

      I often think back to my teenage years when my temper was huge and when angry or frustrated how i would punch something until my hands bleeded. I have broken my hand on one occasion, smashed the veins and nerves on another and dislocated knuckles at others...was this my own version of self mutilation? I was doing it to relieve the incredible anger and stress I was feeling. Perhaps the closeness I shared with those particualr clients was more than just concern, perhaps I was identifying with them.

      If that was true then there are a lot more people who could be classified this way and do not even know it. Stay safe and Smile DanaTeresa, and again I am sorry if you took offense to my insensitive writing style.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I feel the same way every time I write about my alcoholism, but the remarks I have gotten warm my heart. You will reach some people with this and you are brave and good for doing it.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you for the kind words. I was very nervous about posting it. Fingers crossed that it does some good.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are a very brave woman for writing this hub and allowing others to read it; my hope is that it reaches the people who really need to read it and in so doing you will have helped others. Bravo! Excellent!