Why Self-injuious Behavior?


A response to carlanee’s post about self-destructive behavior. It expands upon the basic concepts noted in the reply.


Most of the time, in the clinical world, it’s referred to as “self-injurious behavior”. That includes all kinds of harmful behaviors directed toward oneself across all diagnoses.

It’s fact that SIB (self-injurious behavior) is often a behavioral expression for emotions that have no other outlet. Many children with autism spectrum disorder engage in SIB. Most often, it is because they are developmentally delayed in the social and language domains. However, many times it does have the function of attention seeking behavior – but not in the way that some perceive it. It does not carry sole intentions of “acting out” in the role of negative reinforcement. It is a way of communicating, “I’m hurting. Please attend to the situation.”

But, SIB has many different functions in other diagnoses. SIB is absolutely complex in development, function, and reinforcement. Some people engage in the behavior as an outward expression of inward suffering, others do it for the adrenaline that it releases. But, most people who engage in SIB are never aware of the root cause that sparks the behavior, nor are they aware of the function.


Reader beware: The following section may be disturbing and trigger inducing. Discretion is advised.

I have been engaging in SIB since the onset of symptoms in my early teens. Nowadays, SIB is a widely covered social issue through media outlets. So, it is pretty easy for children and teens to get some ideas and tips. However, when I was young, SIB was very hush-hush. I did not get the idea from anywhere in particular. It just occurred to me.

It became a regular and highly ritualized behavior. Dark room, so it would look like I was sleeping. Music in the background, nothing in particular. Just some background noise not to raise suspicions. My knife and me. Because, it was easier to get a hold of a kitchen knife than it was to obtain a razor. Besides, that didn’t occur to me until later on.

I will refrain from detailing it any further. The development is obvious, and needs little explanation. However, I will explain the function and reinforcement. I have had well over a decade to study it and witness it in for myself, through myself.

SIB has multiple functions for me. First, for me alone, it is a physical manifestation of the pain I experience. Sometimes, there are no words to pair with it. There are no words in the world to make the feeling go away, and the behavior has become an impulse, rather than a carefully planned, ritualistic behavior.

Second, it is a form of self-punishment. This is the behavioral response to emotional neglect and abuse as a child. I had no confidants. There were no adults that existed in my life that I could relate this awful depression to. And when I attempted to do so with my own parents, it was dismissed. PMS, a phase, attention seeking behavior, imaginary, excuses. I’ve heard all of the rationalizations there are for depressive symptoms.

As a form of self-punishment, much like those of the clergy in the old church, it represented all of the punishment I deserved for being a bad person. A failure. For being insignificant and terrible enough to be unworthy of love. All that a despicable person like myself deserves is wounds. Terrible wounds that will bleed, and scab, and scar so that I might be reminded every time I look upon them.

SIB also serves as a mechanism for control. I have always noticed a pattern about the stimuli that prompts this behavioral reaction. I get to a point where I am overwhelmed, and my life is spinning out of control. I feel helpless and hopeless. The only thing I have control over is my own body, even when I cannot temper my emotions. This mechanism is dangerous, because it is the gateway to an abundance of other methods of SIB.

It is also a small part of the lingering, highly romanticized desire for death. Suicide is something else entirely, so I will leave that at that for the moment. In a way, it is like blood letting of the barbaric medicine practiced in medieval times. When a person was afflicted, blood letting was a common practice. It was though to purge toxins and evil from the body and mind.

And lastly, and most importantly is the addictive component. The act of SIB releases endorphins in the body. It allows the mind to focus on the most immediate pain it perceives, distracting from emotional suffering. Instead of being trapped with those emotions, the mind can be set free from that cage. It focuses on the real pain and the real injury. These endorphins, once the climax of the pain has been reached, take over. For a moment, a brief moment in time, the mind is empty. Everything is numb, with the exception of the radiating pain from the wound. It is similar to taking a drug to escape.

SIB is really a dangerous behavior for all of those reasons, and many more in the realm of somatic damage. I have incredible amounts of scar tissue, some still visible more than ten years later. Other bloggers have related worse to me. Nerve damage, lasting pain, etc. For those that engage in other types of SIB, the risk becomes even greater. Especially with ED and promiscuous behaviors. I am typically a very faithful person, remaining monogamous. (I am completely monogamous in my marriage. Don’t get the wrong idea. That was then, and this is now.) And I still ended up with HPV, causing me to have cervical cancer and two surgeries. The more partners, the higher the risk.

In summation, SIB has an seriously addictive component, and is not a substance, so it makes it harder to control. With a substance, a person can refrain from the substance itself. SIB is a little different because devices of self-harm exist everywhere, and can be carried out in a variety of ways. SIB can be most effectively treated with ABA techniques, mostly behavioral replacement with positive reinforcement. It is a long and difficult process, but it can be accomplished.

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25 thoughts on “Why Self-injuious Behavior?

  1. I also self-injure for almost the same reasons. First and foremost for the transfer of pain, emotional to physical. Then for control and punishment, I also do blood letting to let the evil out. Never knew it had Midevil roots, sometimes it just feels like my blood runs cold and you can feel the evil rush through my body and have to get it out.

    • For me, it’s getting the affliction out. Letting all of the tainted emotions of bipolar disorder find a way out. But, I view bipolar disorder in a biological fashion more than a psychic disorder / dyfunction.

      I have my ideas of the roots of how this came to be. But, another story for another day, I suppose.

  2. I had been dealing with self injury for awhile, although very infrequent. Usually just when I got too stressed and overwhelmed. And the injury tended to be severe (I broke my arm 4 times). Lately it’s been getting a lot worse though. I started cutting, and the feeling of relief was so strong that it’s all I can think about.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I connected so much with this. It feels like what I’ve been trying to say in my blog and couldn’t get the words out right.

  3. I find your mention of the old church interesting. I’ve often had the suspicion that if we lived in earlier times, self-injuring behavior might be seen as a manifestation of sainthood or piety. Maybe some people who self-punished back then actually dealt with many of the problems we do?

  4. It’s interesting to me, because everyone I know who practices SI (or who has in the past) has two things in common, both of which you mention here. First, they have suffered a significant trauma in their life, second, they feel out of control and that “The only thing [they] have control over is [their] own body. . .” A thoughtful, interesting write-up.

    • Thank you!

      It was really Carlanee that inspired this. It provoked an answer to that question: Why?

      Usually, upon asking a person who regularly engages in SIB, the answer is I don’t know. At best, there is a half answer. However, that question is usually posed during a time of great emotional flurry.

      As behaviors go, it becomes more complex than addiction, because there is an addictive element at work. The impulse becomes so strong that it becomes a compulsion. The more I attempt to ignore it, the stronger the urge becomes.

      But, that’s after the idea pops up as the solution to a “problem”. It likely uses the same mechanisms both chemically and behaviorally as substance abuse to reinforce and sustain such a maladaptive behavior.

      I did want to touch on the concept of treatment for SIB through ABA techniques. But, I thought better of it. Maybe I will do a writeup at another time, but I don’t like to give anything that looks like “treatment advice”.

  5. I never really wondered why at the time I would resort to the SIB. All I know is that I felt powerless to stop it. After reading both carlarenee45, and your post, I understand now. I was able to objectively reflect back over that time span and realized the triggers.Thanks! Not that understanding it back then would have changed the behavior. But still good to know.

    • You are too kind!

      I was in court this morning. I think there’s a bunch of stuff about the lawsuit if you look up “legal” in my search bar. It went okay, but I didn’t get to do my rounds to post or do much of anything because it was so time consuming.

      So, I’m going to make it my priority to sit down tomorrow and maybe do a little awards ceremony!

      Thanks again! You are completely a doll!

  6. Thanks for posting this Lulu, and for being so open and honest.
    I’ve always wondered why anyone would injure themselves in such a way.

    Your explanation for how things happen for you, has helped me understand,and your reasons actually make sense.
    That is in no way an encouragement or incitement to harm, just to let you know I understand ( I think)

    I do know that I don’t think I could do it ( too chicken and scared of the hurt ) – which gives me just a little idea of what you must go through when an episode occurs.

    Everyone has worth Lulu, and you are certainly not a failure, but as I said before no judging, no critiscism, just a shoulder to rest on.
    I hope this week is working out for you Lulu, and that things are getting a little better for you.
    love n hugs
    xxx

    • It’s interesting that you noted: I don’t think I could do it, I’m scared of the pain.

      This has always been my position on SIB. No matter what the motivation, that person is screaming for help. Most often, it’s like this. And I’m not sure where I heard it or read it, so mind you I have no notation here, “When a person is drowning, they don’t look around them and think, ‘It would be great if someone noticed I’m drowning.’ No! They scream for their lives!”

      For some people, SIB is that scream. Some people, myself included, can’t come out and say these three simple words: “Please help me.” I grew up in a family that believed if you had to ask for help or announce that you’re sick, then you’re not sick enough to warrent any special treatment.

      Turns out, I was sick as hell.

      I wish I had a place where I could literally scream and cry. And I wish I had that ability to say those three words, “Please help me.”

  7. I’n sorry I’ve only just picked up your reply Lulu, but after having read your latest entry I don’t feel so bad for not being around and not answering.

    A step at a time, a little bit here and there, but don’t be worried about asking for help.
    One day you will be able to say those words, but only when you are ready, as I say, a step at a time, though from what you are writing you seem to helping yourself, which is great.

    Never be afraid to ask for help… it’s not a sign of weakness or hypochondria, and people WILL help , as much as they can, even if they are 3000+ miles away.
    I hope you find your place, and also the ability to ask for help when you are in need.
    love n hugs xxx

  8. Pingback: The Psych Life » Self Injurious Behavior, and How to Stop it [Guest Author - Emily Bodfish]

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