Self-Injury Awareness Day 2015 hopes to generate conversation about the prevalence of self-injuring behaviors and ways we – as a society – can begin having productive conversations about causes, motivations, and ways people heal. Self-injury or self-injuring behaviors are part of a spectrum or continuum of self-harm and are often coping mechanisms for individuals with trauma histories, learning disabilities, or other stressful life experiences.

Records and descriptions of self-injury go back for centuries, but recent research and attention has focused on the psychological and emotional impact of these behaviors. Until recently, researchers focused on young women under 30 years of age, but discussions and perceptions have broadened to include young men and boys in conversations around intervention and support.

Understanding self-injury can serve practitioners in the anti-sexual violence movement (and beyond), as they work with survivors and youth, as well as engage communities in social change. Below are some considerations:

• This is how someone has chosen to cope with stress or trauma. When someone is told “Stop doing this” they are robbed of a source of comfort and release. It is important for individuals to find another way to channel stress and frustration before developing a plan for stopping self-injurious behaviors or patterns. It may seem counterintuitive, but a strong plan and confidence in that plan will support long-lasting changes.

• Bodily autonomy and control are incredible important.Cultural attitudes about, primarily, women’s bodies make it seem as though people can comment on visible scars or marks. These comments reinforce the belief that a person’s body is not their own, further isolating or shaming them. A post from the blog, Feminist Times, puts it very succinctly:

Women’s bodies are often not seen and sometimes not experienced as their own. A common consideration … when using self-harm was always where, not for reasons of safety, but to preserve my privacy and prevent others from feeling they had the right to comment on my body. Others feeling they can comment and ask complete strangers about self-harm scars is such a common issue that a colleague … role plays with women so they feel confident enough to respond with ‘I did it myself, why do you want to know?’ [emphasis added]

  • Emphasizing appearance, attractiveness, or scarring furthers the harm. Society has a preoccupation with women’s skin, physical appearance, and capacity for dominant beauty standards. Self-injuring behavior can be influenced by this view and can be further exacerbated when discourse around the behavior is shaming. Self-injury cannot be stopped or prevented with pleas to protect attractive qualities.

NJCASA’s mission is to promote and support “the compassionate and just treatment of survivors and their loved ones.”  This process looks differently for everyone.  Just as we affirm the identity and choices of every survivor, we know that that journey may look, feel, sound, and last in ways we can’t understand.