Over time, self-injury itself can become a habitual, nearly addictive behavior, and 8.7 percent of self-injurers are also addicts.
Erin Hardy, a Wisconsin-based therapist, found herself in a quandary when an uptick of people who self-injured came to her about five years ago. This was a new area to her practice, so Hardy sought consultation with her colleagues on resources, but they came up empty. An internet search left Hardy with unsatisfactory results.
“All the sudden I had this flood of individuals that were engaging in self-harm,” says Hardy. “There is really nothing [online] about self-harm other than the theme of, ‘Anybody who self-injures has borderline personality disorder,’ and … ‘there’s no cure, nobody can get better.'”
Undeterred, Hardy kept searching until she found S.A.F.E. Alternatives, an organization co-founded by Wendy Lader and Karen Conterio in the mid-1980s dedicated to self-injury recovery with the belief, “people can and do stop injuring with the right kinds of help and support.” Through their S.A.F.E. Focus program, Hardy got the training and materials she needed to lead a dedicated self-injury support group in her city.
Today, a similar internet search for self-harm resources yields information focused on adolescents. As one PsychForums member put it, “I have been online searching for several hours today regarding finding help for self-harm, and I’m 40. I have been seeing that it is mostly in young people, and feeling pretty embarrassed and ashamed that I’m an adult dealing with it. I feel like I should have grown out of this long ago.”
The pervasive idea that self-injury is a behavior relegated to emo teenagers is simply false. Self-injury affects 4 to 5.5 percent of adults, yet the stigma persists, leaving millions of self-injurers to struggle in silence and feel invisible.
Defined as intentionally harming the body without suicidal intent through behaviors such as cutting, burning or hitting oneself, self-injury serves as a maladaptive coping skill to deal with difficult emotions, experiences and feeling states.
“Self-injury is the choice to feel or not to feel, … to escape really negative uncomfortable feeling states,” says Wendy Lader, co-founder of S.A.F.E. Alternatives and past CEO of Mending Fences. “They really just want to release some emotional pain.”
Over time, self-injury itself can become a habitual, nearly addictive behavior, and 8.7 percent of self-injurers are also addicts. Self-injury, like addiction, often co-occurs with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety, among others — issues that can’t always be resolved by the end of adolescence.
So why aren’t more resources dedicated to adult self-injurers outside of individual therapy?
For more information on the prevalence of self-injury among adults and how we can work toward more resources, head over to the full article Why Aren’t There More Resources for Adult Self-Injurers? at The Fix.