Self-Injurious Behaviors

Overview of Self-Injurious Behaviors

Self-injurious behaviors are behaviors that people engage in that cause intentional physical bodily harm to themselves. Self-harm is often carried out when individuals attempt to deal with difficult or overwhelming emotions, and are not sure how manage their emotions in a more effective manner. Self-injury may take on several forms, most commonly cutting, scraping, burning, biting or hitting. Self-destructive behaviors are not to be confused with body piercings or tattoos that are sought for the purpose of self-decoration.

Why Do People Self-Injure?

Based on research, people who engage in self-injurious behaviors claim to experience little to no pain while they are hurting themselves. Rationales for self-injury include feeling anger toward themselves or others, or relieving pain, anger and tension. Self-injurious behaviors are not necessarily suicidal gestures, but individuals who engage in self-injurious behaviors may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Since there is a strong link between suicide and depression, it is important for concerned others to invite open communication about self-injury and suicide. A common myth is that asking individuals if they are contemplating suicide affects their likelihood to attempt or complete suicide. Rather, asking about self-injury or suicide may help people know that you care about them and welcome open communication.

If you have concerns about the endangerment of someone’s life, whether they self-injure or not, contact a local hospital, police, or SHCS Counseling Services.


What Can be Done

People generally do not wish to hurt themselves, but see no better way of managing their emotions. The suggestions below are for people who have made the decision to quit self-injuring, and are looking for alternative strategies to deal with their emotions.

Techniques to Try

  • Distract yourself, get away from the situation you are in, and do something else.
  • Talk with someone who is supportive, such as a family member, friend, RA, hall director, or counselor.
  • Engage in another activity that requires stimulation. Give yourself a massage, take a hot or cold shower, squeeze ice, finger paint, or squish Play-doh.
  • Exercise is a way of quickly managing emotions. Go for a brisk walk or run, punch a pillow, swim, lift weights, or engage in other aerobic activities that require physical exertion.
  • Pamper yourself by doing something soothing. Read, listen to music, take a relaxing bath, look at the moon or clouds, open a window to get some fresh air.
  • Make a list of activities to engage in that have been helpful in the past when you had the urge to self-injure. Keep this list handy to refer to if you do have the urge to self-injure.

Activity Log During Urge to Self-Injure

  1. Rate the intensity of your urge to hurt yourself on a scale from 1-10.
  2. Identify which emotions you are feeling.
  3. Rate the intensity of each emotion on a scale from 1-10.
  4. Identify the situation you were in prior to your urge to hurt yourself.
  5. Identify the unhelpful/impulsive thoughts present when you had the urge to hurt yourself.
  6. Identify more helpful/more realistic thoughts to dispute the unhelpful ones.
  7. Rate the intensity of your emotions a scale from 1-10 after completing this log.

It may also be helpful to think about the first time self-injury occurred, the situations and emotional factors at that time, and how they were dealt with.

How Can I Break Free From Self-Injury?

Recognizing that there is hope beyond self-injury is the first step, and SHCS can be great support. People often fear that self-injury will be seen as shameful or secretive, but it does not have to be. A counselor can be the empathic encourager that coaches individuals to help them meet their goals. A counselor can also work with individuals to help educate about other coping mechanisms, and to provide support as people look more deeply at their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. By looking at factors associated with self-injury, and the underlying concerns, many can begin to break free from self-injury.

Concerned for Others

It can be difficult to learn that ones you care about deliberately injure themselves. It can also be difficult to not want to rush in and “save” them from their pain. People engaging in self-injurious behaviors need to be the ones making the decision to change their behaviors. You can share your concern, and urge them to ask for help and you can let them know that you are available to call if they have the urge to self-injure, feel emotionally overwhelmed, or want to be with someone. Unconditionally showing them that they do not need to self-injure to get love and attention from you can be helpful. Asking if you can take them out to a movie, or to get a snack is a way to provide a distraction, and gives them the chance to accept your offer.

If you are living in the residence halls, asking an RA or hall director to become a part of a support team can be an important step in empowering the person self-injuring, especially if the self-injury is distressing others, or endangering the safety of the one you care about.


How We Can Help

SHCS provides acute care, drop-in services, brief individual therapy, group therapy, and referrals for on-going therapy

You can schedule an intake with a counselor at North Hall by calling (530) 752-2349Acute Care drop-in services are available on the first floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center.