The big stampeding elephant in the room – otherwise known as self injury

In our post on Saturday, we mentioned that we were self-injuring daily.  To us this was no big deal, and we listed it as number 4 in the reasons why last week was bad.  Yet, this is what almost everyone picked up on within the comments.  This surprised us – we couldn’t see what the issue was.  Self-injury in some form, has been part of our life for as long as I can remember.  In some ways it has become a normal part of life.

A definition of self-injury or self-harm is interesting to arrive at.  I’m going to break one of M’s rules and use Wikipedia for the definition – not because it’s particularly good, but rather like all things Wikipedia, it’s a good starting point.  So according to Wikipedia:

Self-injury (SI), also referred to as self-harm (SH), self-inflicted violence (SIV) or self-injurious behaviour (SIB), refers to a spectrum of behaviours where demonstrable injury is self-inflicted. The term self-mutilation is also sometimes used, although this phrase evokes connotations that some find worrisome, inaccurate, or offensive.

(Wikipedia: Self-injury, 2009)

So how do you determine what a demonstrable injury is?  Some of my self-injury is psychological in basis, which is notoriously difficult to identify as having a demonstrable injury.  Does the injury have to be immediate?  I consider eating disorders to be a form of self-injury, but the effects are not always noticeable immediately.  So in short, self-injury is like defining the length of a piece of string.  To me, what defines self-injury is the intent of the action or non-action.  Why did you pick that sore?  Why didn’t you eat that piece of cake?  It’s definitely not about how much you bleed or how big the bruise is, it’s about why it happened and how it made you feel afterwards.

In many ways I feel like a fraud talking about self-injury.  I mean I’m “high-functioning” and “we” don’t self-injure.  Then I look at the scars on my skin, the signs of malnutrition evident in my toenails, the sores that never heal because they’re picked at, the bruises on my leg etc.  None of these are an attempt to get attention – the scars etc are on parts of the body where they won’t be easily found or recognised as self-injury.  They’re also not an attempt at suicide – the plans around suicide are very separate from our self-injury.  But the over-riding feeling for considering myself a fraud when talking about self-injury is the shame.  It is considered by society as a weakness, a character flaw, disgusting, self-centred…  My opinion of self-injury is affected by this societal view.  If someone I don’t know says that they attempted suicide or self-injured, I tend to dismiss them as attention seeking – I buy into the societal whitewash.  But I also know many people who self-injure on a personal level and at no time do I consider them to be attention seeking.  The big difference between these scenarios is that those who really suffer with self-injury rarely talk about it and I know the pain of my friends.  I know they’re not faking.  I know that they sometimes struggle to get out of bed and even pretend to keep going.  Their pain is real to me.  But I also feel that sense of helplessness that comes from not being able to “fix it” for them.

I think this is a huge reason why society view self-injury as it does – there is a sense of helplessness about what to do.  Will sympathy make the person feel worse?  If we talk about it will it give them ideas?  But it’s mainly I DON’T UNDERSTAND…  Often the lack of understanding comes from all sides – the self-injurer often doesn’t know why they need to injure, family and friends don’t understand where they went wrong, and the doctors treat you as another “one of those patients” where you don’t want to get too close because it’s a long journey out of self-injury.  Yes, it often becomes about the people around the self-injurer rather than the injurer themselves.  It is rare to find a person who will sit with you during that pain in an unconditional way.  But when you do, it’s incredible.  I’m not sure I would have the strength to do it, I’ve talked to one person who needed that unconditional support and I’m not sure how effective I was.

Sorry, this is very rambling.  But my thoughts about self-injury are so confused.  I know I do it.  I know I shouldn’t, but every day it happens.  I’m worried what will happen if I accept this as my reality – will it mean that I’ll also be accepting the self-injury and not want to stop?  Or, will it mean that I can look at the stampeding elephant coming towards me and make it change it course?  In the words of Frank – fucked if I know.

I hope that the more we talk about it, the less of a grip it will have over me and others who suffer.  Not looking at the elephant in the room doesn’t make it disappear, it just makes the shame more intense.

Wikipedia: Self-injury. (2009, July 9).  Retrieved 13 July, 2009 from

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10 thoughts on “The big stampeding elephant in the room – otherwise known as self injury

  1. i understand. and we all think you told it well in your post. we are worried for you. everyone thiinks of you girls a lot. from gracie.

  2. I was just thinking about this topic today, in relation to why I’m so nervous about having any kind of emotional reaction or breakthrough in therapy. I know that more than one of my selves would react with an immediate and overwhelming urge to self-injure, if I allow an authority figure to witness my pain. I was actually sitting there planning how to channel that urge into something that wouldn’t be particularly visible, now that I have someone in my life who sees more of my body than I usually show anyone. I realized I was very worried about how I would direct that desire to self-harm. Because I’m pretty sure that resisting it completely isn’t going to be an option.

    I tend toward acceptance, I think … because I think it’s more realistic. I think you can be accepting of the behavior without … identifying with it. Hmmm. I mean, I think with any self-injury, there’s a difference between “This is what I do, and I’m going to state that clearly without shame,” and “This is who I am, and I don’t plan to change.”

    I guess … I think that self-injury is what we do, not who we are. And looking straight on at the fact that we do it is important, I think. We don’t do it to get other people’s attention … we’re doing it, I believe, to get our own attention. And I think that naming the elephant in the room is the first step toward doing that. But it’s hard. It’s a particularly scary-looking elephant. A rogue elephant, even.

  3. I can sign every word you have written! Thank you for this post.
    Especially what you have written about the societal view. I know this too well.
    Self injury is part of my life as long as I could think back. It helps me to survive, help me to handle overwhelming feelings, it takes the “pressure” from our internal system…
    I don’t want any attention. I hide my cuts every time and I feel shame 😦
    At the appointment with the health professional on friday, she will force me to show these cuts and I still don’t know how I should show this to a totally strange woman, who I don’t know 😦
    This are the time I wish I would be **** because I can’t endure this 😦

  4. Yes, it’s a long way out of self-injury. I consider myself a fraud when it comes to self-injury because I tend not to do the things that are sort of the “norm” for SI. I.e., the things you are always asked about by psychiatrists: cut, burn, etc.

    For me, for a long while I used medication as a way to self-injure. I said it was self-medicating. But there was intent and spite there.

    For, well, forever, we have used sex as a form of self-injury. I won’t go there and explain why. But it is and was that for us. Mostly, this doesn’t happen much these days. I will have to see if I can get up the courage to post about this in the future.

    Then there’s eating.

    I can identify with the psychological aspect of it. I think in borderline personality they talk about self-injury as a way to seek attention. I may be off on that. It’s not been the case with me. It’s been an attack within for the purpose of either hurting others inside or finding a way to self-soothe.

    I’m so not proud of my behavior at times. The fact that I now talk about any SI’ing with therapist makes me a bit more responsible about it.

    I wish you well, as always.


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