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Violence Against Self

Violence against one self is referred to as self-Inflicted Violence (SIV) and is best described as the intentional harm of one's own body without conscious suicidal intent.

Most types of SIV involve cutting of one's own flesh (usually the arms, hands, or legs), burning one's self, interfering with the healing of wounds, excessive nail biting, pulling out one's own hair, hitting or bruising one's self, and intentionally breaking one's own bones.


SIV is more common than you might think and it is a way to cope with the problems that one is facing and as one young lady pointed out to me, when you inflict that pain on yourself, it takes your mind off the issues that you cannot handle.

Dealing With Persons Who Are Hurting Themselves

Persons who are inflicting pain on themselves are usually crying out for help.  Sometimes it is a while before they reveal what they are doing or before anyone finds out, but they need help.


There is a need to talk about self-inflicted violence as this would assist in removing the secrecy which surrounds these actions, reduce the shame attached to self-inflicted violence and build a connection between you and the person who is self-injuring. 


Persons who are self injuring might welcome having someone to talk to but while talking you must try to find out what help they really need because there are numerous reasons a person harms themselve.  In young people it might be a case of high levels of emotional distress and the person can find no other way to cope and they try to block out their problems.  Some of these problems can be boyfriend/girlfriend issues, bullying or even more serious matters such as rape or sexual assault, so the help needed varies.


Open wounds are a fairly direct expression of emotional pain. One of the reasons why individuals injure themselves is so that they transform internal pain into something more tangible, external and treatable. The wound becomes a symbol of both intense suffering and of survival. It is important to acknowledge the messages sent by these scars and injuries.

Be supportive and positive as much a possible and avoid showing negative reactions when the person opens up to you.  
Although it may be difficult for you, it is really important that in being supportive you keep your negative reactions to yourself  because judgments and negative responses can make the person shut you out.  Some times the person might need professional help and you should encourage that if that is the case.


A person who is self injuring should not be alone for long periods of time and the more time you can spend with them, the less opportunities they will have to inflict self-harm.  While the young person who is self injuring might not want to discuss the situation with their parents, you have to find a way to let the parents in on what is happening as they need to keep an eye on the child, especially at night.


Your ability to understand the severity of your friend's distress and empathize appropriately, will enhance your communication and connection. Don't be afraid to raise the subject of emotional pain. Allow your friends to speak about their inner turmoil rather than express this turmoil through self-damaging methods.


The most final and devastating expression of this kind of self harming is suicide as many persons who self harm can have suicidal thoughts:


Like people who are violent toward others, potential suicide victims often behave in recognizable ways before they try to end their lives. Suicide, like other forms of violence, is preventable.


The two most important steps in prevention are recognizing warning signs and getting help. Warning signs of potential self-violence may include:


  • Previous suicide attempts

  • Significant alcohol or drug use

  • Threatening or communicating thoughts of suicide, death, dying or the afterlife

  • Sudden increase in moodiness, withdrawal or isolation

  • Major change in eating or sleeping habits

  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness

  • Poor control over behaviour

  • Impulsive, aggressive behaviour

  • Drop in quality of school performance or interest

  • Lack of interest in usual activity

  • Getting into trouble with authority figures

  • Perfectionism

  • Giving away important possessions

  • Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye

  • Feeling like a burden to others


If a friend mentions suicide, take it seriously. Listen carefully and then seek help immediately. Never keep their talk of suicide a secret, even if they ask you to. Remember, you risk losing that person forever.


When you recognize the warning signs for suicidal behaviour, do something about it. Tell a trusted adult what you have seen or heard. Get help from a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible. They can help work out the problems that seem so unsolvable but, in fact, are not.

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