We are frequently asked the question: who self injures?
Despite the media’s frequent portrayal of self-injury being something that predominantly affects teenage girls, at FirstSigns we know this is wholly inaccurate. FirstSigns itself was founded by Wedge – and he’s never going to be a teenage girl!
Self-injury can affect anybody, at any time in their lives. Gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion, background – they are all irrelevant. If, rather than considering who might turn to self-injury, we instead focus on who could possibly suffer from the emotional distress that can lead to self-injury, it’s much easier to imagine that self-injury really can affect anyone.
Self-injury is a coping mechanism. Anyone who has anything distressing to cope with might potentially turn to self-injury.
So instead of looking at who self-injures in terms of such things as gender and age, we might consider that there are certain characteristics that some people who self-injure share. These include, but are not restricted to, low self-esteem, perfectionism and high achievement, poor body image, trauma and abuse. Of course, a person who self-injures may experience all, some, or none of these characteristics, as may a person who doesn’t self-injure.
Many people who self-injure often talk about intense negative feelings towards themselves. A significant cause of low self-esteem is chronic invalidation by others.
Perfectionism and high achievement
Perfectionists may be very successful in their every-day lives, but it often comes at a personal cost. Perfectionism simultaneously pushes people to succeed to the highest standards, but it also inevitably causes a person to feel they could have done better, or even that they have failed. Similarly to invalidation, this may lead eventually to low self-esteem.
Poor body image
Some people who self-injure have a poor body image. This may, again, be due to invalidation (i.e. consistent comments about weight, looks etc) or may even be due to the media’s attention on the ‘beautiful people’. A person can feel inadequate, or even ugly or inferior. Self-injury may be a way of coping with these feelings by ‘punishing’ the body.
Trauma and abuse
Some people self-injure to cope with traumatic life events, either currently or in the past. These may include bereavement, bullying, break-up of relationship, financial crisis, or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
Other mental health issues
Self-injury may also be associated with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, etc.