I will post another article after this that may be of interest.
Why do people hurt themselves?
Life is pain, highness.
Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.
-The Princess Bride
Oy. The question of why is usually the hardest one to answer. It is also the most important.
For most people, self-injury is not the main problem; it is a symptom. So what could the main problem be?
Karl Menninger, who, I think, was the first person to write about self-injury scientifically, thought that SI was a conflict between the death wishes and the life forces in a person. It was a way of staying alive (the life forces) while at the same time giving in to destructive urges (the death wishes).
This is a very Freudian point of view, and not everybody agrees with it. Many researchers think that self-injury is at least partially based in biology and heredity. A person's genes do not necessarily predetermine that person to be an injurerer (or to not be an injurer), but they help. When dealing with environmental problems, a person who has biological problems or "bad" genes is more likely to self-injure than a person with "good" genes, even in the same situation (Levenkron, 1998).
An extension of this theory focuses on the development of the brain. Many people who self-injure are very talented; they may even be over-achievers. it could be that one part of the brain, that responsible for intellectualism, is overdeveloped. This could somehow cause a different section of the brain, the one responsible for handling emotions, to be underdeveloped (Strong, 1998).
The most common cause of self-injury is childhood sexual abuse (Strong, 1998). This could be because trauma may cause the body to handle stress nd anxiety badly biologically. It could also be because some people are used to and accept (or think that they deserve) pain (Levenkron, 1998). Children who have been abused often grow up to think that they deserved the pain. They may also come to associate pain with comfort and nurturance because the parents, although abusive, also provided some degree of comfort. Maybe they brought food home and fed the child. Maybe they give him or her a hug every once in a while. Or maybe the child thought that parents were supposed to provide comfort, so he or she associated them with comfort and nurturance, even though none was provided. These children may grow up so used to pain that they hurt themselves in the absence of an abusive parent to do it for them.
Some reasons for self-injury other than parental abuse are also linked to childhood. For instance, cutting can be linked to a lack of handling during infancy (Strong, 1998). SI can be caused by body alienation resulting from childhood illness and/or surgery (Rosen and Walsh, 1988).
SI can be considered "fake pain." This doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt, because it does. (In the words of the author of Secret Shame, "It hurts like hell.") However, the pain is physical, not emotional. Often, physical pain is easier to deal with. It can be seen and pinpointed; it can also be controlled (Martinson, 2001).
So far I have been talking about causes of self-injury - causes that lay deep below the surface of the cuts, burns, and bruises. Now I will talk about reasons - things that are a bit less hidden.
It is difficult to determine the intent of a self-injurious act because sometimes the self-injurer doesn't know why he or she did something. At best, the SI'er can give a reason after he or she cut. This given reason is subject to memory distortions and therefore may not be very accurate.
However, self-injury is often linked to problems with a person's family. Another trigger for most people is a sense of abandonment, either real or imaginary. According to Rosen and Walsh (1988), one of the reasons that people hurt themselves is to control others (coercion). The self-injury may be the only way that the SI'er can think of to get others to realize what kind of pain he or she is in. Abuse can also cause SI, for the reasons I talked about above, but also because many people turn to self-injury when the abuse is denied. Some people hurt themselves in anticipation of emotional pain; this is known as anticipatory anxiety.
Dissociation can start as a defense but lead to problems later on. When a person dissociates, he or she is unable to feel. He/she feels unreal, and there is a sense of floating, of being unreal. This can be a defense for people who have been abused, molested, or raped, and who could not deal with what was happening or had happened to them. However, people who dissociate often can begin to do this involuntarily. Some people black out and "wake up" minutes or hours later, often with a fresh scar or burn, sometimes away from home, and with no memory of inflicting the wound.
Some people self-injure simply because they can't stop. SI is addictive, both psychologically and physically. It is addictive psychologically because SI'ers get used to this particular coping mechanism and turn to it when things are wrong. It is addicting physically because of endorphins that the body produces. Endorphins act as natural opiates when the body is hurt, and they help a person deal with the pain. However, when many endorphins are produced all at once, and when this is repeated often, as is usually the case with self-injury, the body gets addicted to them. Endorphins provide a euphoric rush that makes a person who has just hurt him or her self feel a high similar to what a person on drugs feels. Eventually, they body needs more and more endorphins to produce this high. This means that the longer a person self-injures, the more severe the injuries will have to be in order to produce the euphoria.