psychology

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Portrayals of Self mutilation and self inflicted injury

Media plays a fundamental role in almost everything that goes on in today’s society being presented as a vehicle to communication. Mass media is used for various purposes, such as support and encouragement for social and business concerns, enrichment and education, and most commonly entertainment. It became popular around the 1920s with the arrival of nationwide radio networks, along with mass-circulation and magazines, although mass media was present centuries before the term became common. Traditionally mass media is synonymous through performances of acting, music and sports, along with light reading, and since the late 20th century through video and computer games.

Furthermore the media portrays women through film, television, and magazines, with fair skin, long blonde hair, and a thin physique, pressuring young girls of all nationalities to want to have this look that is depicted through the media. Adolescence is a hard time on young girls. This is the time phase when they are starting to develop both physically, and emotionally, all while gaining a sense of individuality. Moreover the effects on body images and self identity through mass media and advertising are playing a different roll on their lives. Females see famous people are thin and beautiful, for example models, and actresses, and desire to replicate them, they also believe that this is what most men are attracted to; persuading them to do almost anything just to keep up with both the media’s standards and what they say is ideal, nevertheless these female representations continue to prosper in the media that is consumed everyday.

The media is responsible for the idealistic images that are presented and reproduced every day. Promoting most people by means of deceit to conform to the representations that are readily reflected in the media as perfection as attainable ideals, rather than the products of a huge marketing machine. This contributes to the countless people whose self-esteem suffers from viewing images presented within the media, instead of grasping an understanding of the motives behind the industry besides questioning the importance of beauty in everyday life; which should result in a more positive sense of self-worth.

Not only does the idealized images in the media contribute to the destruction of self identity and body images, but also contributes to discrimination, prejudices, and intolerance against women who do not fit into the standards of the media, they also tend to play an important role in the development of certain mental health disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, depression, self-mutilation and other psychiatric disorders. This is not to say the media is the root, or the cause of these problems, although the damage occurs not because the media forces these images, but because most people lack the self-confidence, self-worth and the esteem of inner beauty.

Self mutilation/ self-inflicted injury is an increasing issue in both adolescents as well as adults, although it is not thoroughly understood therefore it is viewed and judged negatively resulting in the self-mutilator being seen as socially unacceptable. According to Favazza self-injury is more common than you might think with roughly 1% of the general population engaging in self-mutilating behavior, and this is likely to be greatly underestimated. Although self inflicted wounds are a direct expression of emotional pain, the explanations for why people intentionally injure themselves are numerous and diverse. One of the major reasons why individuals injure themselves is so that they can transform internal pain into something physical, making the wound become a symbol of both intense suffering and survival, however, using self-mutilation as a method of coping with life making it more tolerable.

Most individuals would choose to not injure themselves if they could, although self injury produces feelings of shame, secrecy, guilt, and isolation. Many people will engage or conform to self-injurious behaviors despite the many negative effects. This research paper will examine the portrayals of self mutilation and self inflicted injury amongst people in America through mass media. An estimated 2 million Americans partake in Self-Mutilation/Self-Inflicted injury of some form. Self-Mutilation is deliberate mutilation of the body or a portion of the body without the intent to commit suicide, but as a way of managing emotions that seem too painful for words to express.

The average self-injurer begins in their early-mid teens and usually stems from events that occurred within the first six years of a child's life although Self-Mutilative behaviors will not typically begin until around age fourteen, according to Favazza & Conterio, continuing with a peak incidence from sixteen to twenty-five years of age. The majority of self mutilators are women, although through out the most recent years men have been participating in self-injurious behavior. Some reasons for this unbalance are women are more willing to receive psychiatric help than men and also men are more likely to turn to acts of violence against others or use drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings. Men who self-injure use more extreme methods than women. Men will frequently end up in hospitals while women tend to be more cautious.

There is no typical self-injurer. Research for the book, “A Bright Red Scream,” by Marilee Strong included, interviews with people both male and female, from all ethnic backgrounds, from several countries around the world, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty-three” (Strong M.36). Self-injury can be found in people who seem to have perfect lives, business men, artists, actors, and even princesses. Princess Diana would not be a person someone would normally associate with self-injury, but she was a self-injurer. Diana would repeatedly throw herself into furniture and cut her wrists. Along with being a self-injurer, Diana suffered from bulimia. Self-harming In one study, seventy-one percent considered their self-harm to be an addiction.

In terms of actual research, there has been little investigation into the incidence of self-harming behavior in any racial group other than Caucasian and more needs to be carried out, although the few cases that have been found, in individuals in other racial groups than Caucasian. This research paper will examine self mutilation, and self inflicted injury amongst people in today’s society, through mass media. The first point will discuss the methods used by people who conform to self mutilation, and self-inflicted injury along with their risk for suicide. The second point will discuss the correlating and psychological factors along with their effect and influences on self mutilation. The third point will discuss the relationships in addition to the previous experiences of individuals who self mutilate. The next point will discuss famous self-mutilators and how they are portrayed through the mass media, while the final and concluding point will discuss what can be done to inform others about self-mutilation in order to help prevent, inform and educate others about self mutilation and self-inflicted injury in the future.

Methods and Risk for Suicide

The most common practice of self- mutilation is skin cutting, but other methods include burning, self-hitting, interference with wound healing, severe skin scratching, hair pulling, and bone breaking (Favazza A. R. 47). Cutting also can be done with any sharp object, including knives, needles, razor blades or even fingernails. With cutting and burning, people will choose places on the body that are not likely to be seen by others, or can be easily covered up afterwards like the arms, legs, or chest area. Some people do not feel pain while they are hurting themselves, even when creating deep cuts. Some do find self-injury painful but welcome the pain as a punishment or as a distraction from emotional turmoil. The most extreme form of self-injury involves occasional acts of great tissue destruction limb amputation, castration resulting in permanent disfigurement. It is associated with acute intoxicated or psychotic states.

The three types of self injury are major, stereotypic, and superficial/moderate. Major self-mutilation refers to acts that severely damage a significant amount of body tissue. These are usually injuries that can only be inflicted once, such as, facial skinning, and amputation of the limbs, breasts or genitals. Stereotypic self-mutilation involves repetitive, sometimes rhythmic, acts, the most common form being head-banging. Other forms include digging, hitting, throat and eye gouging which is considered major self-mutilation, hair pulling and self-biting.

Stereotypic self-mutilation can sometimes result in tooth extraction or joint dislocation. This can be caused by mental retardation, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or the influence of drugs or alcohol. Stereotypic self-mutilation involves rhythmic, fixed patterns of self-mutilation eyeball pressing, head banging. It is most common in autistic individuals and institutionalized mentally retarded people. Superficial or Moderate self-mutilation occurs repetitively and infrequently. It is not highly lethal and develops an addictive quality that can become an overwhelming obsession. Frequently, this is associated with psychological disorder or trauma. For these people, Self-Injury is usually used as an escape, or a way to relieve numbness, and an expression of pain which is usually caused by emotional stress that the person is incapable, for whatever reason of dealing with. The actual amount of people who self-injure is unknown because many cases go unseen and untreated, although it has been estimated that about 750 per 100,000 persons per year have problems with self-injury.

Superficial self-mutilation, the most common type observed, is currently believed to exist in 1.4 percent of the population (Favazza A. R. 22). This behavior can manifest itself in three forms. The Compulsive unconsciously pulls out his own hair or picks at her skin. The Episodic patient cuts or burns deliberately, using the physiological shock to escape distressing emotions usually caused by depression or a personality disorder. The Repetitive self-mutilator defines herself by her self-mutilation, performing it on a regular basis, and sometimes with a sense of ceremony. Similar to episodic self-mutilating, this behavior serves to aid in calming and regaining a sense of reality or self-efficacy. This form of self-mutilation is often associated with eating disorders. Episodic and repetitive self-mutilation can also be motivated by a need for security and uniqueness, desire to exert control over others, self-hate, pressure from multiple personalities, desire for enhanced sexuality, euphoria, venting anger, relief from alienation and impassivity.

Most self-injurers do not harm themselves with the intention of committing suicide. Conversely, most see self-mutilation as an addiction that helps keep them alive or, is often a method of coping with emotional stress. In fact, it may be a way to reduce the tension that, left unattended, could result in an actual suicide attempt. Self-injury with the intent to commit suicide does not qualify as self-mutilation. Overall, the reasons given for suicide attempts differ greatly from the reasons for self-mutilation. Self-injurers often become desperate about their lack of self-control and the addictive-like nature of their acts, which may lead them to true suicide attempts. The self-injury behaviors may also cause more harm than intended, which could result in medical complications or even death.

Eating disorders, alcohol or substance abuse, purpose failure to take prescribed medication, or intensify the threats to the individual’s overall health and quality of life. Self-injury is the best way the individual knows to self-sooth. It may represent the best attempt the person has at creating the least damage. However, self-injury is highly linked to poor sense of self-worth, and over time, that depressed feeling can evolve into suicidal attempts. And sometimes self-harm may accidentally go farther than intended, and a life-threatening injury may result.

In 1989, Favazza and Conterio studied data on 290 self-mutilating women. The typical subject was a 28 year-old single Caucasian female who had cut herself on more than 50 occasions, beginning in adolescence. Amongst these women, the most common practices were found to be skin cutting (72%), skin burning (35%), self-hitting (30%), and interference with wound-healing (22%), severe skin-scratching (22%), hair-pulling (10%), and bone-breaking (8%).

Associated Factors

There are several aspects that can be capable of having an influence, add, or contribute to the causes and effects of a person who self-mutilates/ self/injurers, although each self-mutilator can come from a different ethnic, social, or religious status. Most people do not self-injure because they are curious and wonder what it would be like to hurt themselves. Instead, most self inflicted violence is the result of high levels of emotional distress with few available means to cope. Although it may be difficult for you to recognize and tolerate, it's important that you realize the extreme level of emotional pain individuals experience surrounding self mutilation activities.

People who self-mutilate present significant challenges to their associates, family and friends. A common issue reported by more than half of self-injuring teens is previously being abused as a child, whether it was sexually, mentally or physically; therefore in most cases making sexual abuse the triggering event for self-mutilation, which later becomes used as method to cope with the abuse. “Self-injury may allow abuse survivors to reclaim their bodies sometimes blood speaks louder then words. The blood of self-injuring teens replaces the words that they are unable and unwilling to express, and this blood should be a clear sign that they can communicate and is communicating that he/she wants help. (Strong M.26).

Self-abusers suffer from suppressed and denied emotional pain, which causes them to go through several different emotions. After a period of time their deep pain becomes all but unbearable, and they experience very strong and uncomfortable emotions, such as anger or sadness. They don't know how to cope with these negative emotions. They somehow have learned self-injury will reduce the emotional discomfort quickly. That is because when experiencing the pain of injury endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, are released into the body. These endorphins cause the body to feel calmed and relieved, which last for about two hours. After injuring themselves, the self-abuser still may feel badly about their inner-hurt and what they have done, but at least they no longer feel that panicky, nervous, trapped feeling, however, the calming feeling leaves and the emotional hurt and pain return. Soon the cycle begins again. It is obvious self-injurers hurt themselves as a coping mechanism.

Self-injurers commonly report they feel empty inside, over or under stimulated, unable to express their feelings, lonely, not understood by others and fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self-injury is their way to cope with or relieve painful or hard to express feelings, and is generally not a suicide attempt. But relief is temporary, and a self-destructive cycle often develops without proper treatment.

Coping is a behavior which we use to get through stressful and difficult times. People who self-injure have chosen a method of coping that is extreme, but effective for them. Although the act of self-harm is often regarded as a morbid behavior, it can be understood as a type of self-help practice that provides temporary, often rapid relief from psychological distress

• To ease tension & anxiety

• To escape feelings of depression & emptiness

• To escape feelings of numbness

• To relieve anger & aggression

• To relieve intense emotional pain

• To regain control over one’s body

• To maintain a sense of security or feeling of uniqueness

• As a continuation of previous abusive patterns

• To express or cope with feelings of alienation

• As a response to self-hatred or guilt

• As a symptom of a more severe mental disorder,

e.g. borderline personality disorder(Favazza A., 34).

Most people who self-harm report little or no pain during the act, and know when to stop a session of self-mutilation. (Favazza A., 34) After a certain amount of injury, the need is somehow satisfied and the abuser feels calm and soothed. After Self-injurers get a feeling of relief from psychological / Emotional pain and a release of tension, after a failure to handle feelings, good or bad, expressing anger usually are the feelings that a self mutilator has after they have injured themselves. Those who cut or injure themselves seek to escape from intense affect or achieve some level of focus. For most members of this population, the sight of blood and intensity of pain from a superficial wound accomplish the desired effect, dissociation or management of affect. Following the act of cutting, these individuals usually report feeling better (Levenkron, 43). Self-injury is sometimes associated with certain medical conditions, such as personality disorders, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorders. In addition, self-injury may occur in people who have developmental disabilities, such as autism and mental retardation.

There are several diagnoses that are associated with self-injury including depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, disassociate disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, and impulse-control disorders, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, Borderline Personality Disorders diagnoses are often used as a way to flag a teen to indicate that he or she is a troublemaker and difficult to treat. Most teenagers will be referred to several different psychologists before finding one who understands the disorder of self-injury. Each individual disorder uses the body to work out psychological conflict, to obtain relief from overwhelming feelings of tension, anger, loneliness, emptiness, and self-hatred.

Recent studies found that 35 to 80 percent of people who self-injure also suffer from eating disorders. (Strong, 32) Not surprisingly, self-injury and anorexia have a lot in common. Both syndromes are frequently driven by trauma, especially sexual abuse. Victims of both may feel like they have no one on which to depend or trust, and the behavior will become secretive and hidden from others. In many cases, a teen will develop at least one of the above disorders and later turn to self-injury, and vice versa.

Relationships and Experiences

The most common causal factor is childhood sexual abuse. “In fact, sexual abuse is now recognized by experts as the primary diagnoses of self-mutilators” (Strong M.,23). stormy There are many roots to self-injury, in many cases the mutilators has grown up in a broken home, suffered with the loss of a parent, through death or divorce, or had or have a parental who is suffering from either depression or alcoholism. The rape of a child is an intrusive, violent act that disrupts the integrity of the body and creates a very real and frightening sense of destruction, making the child aware of everything that has been taken away, except their bodies.

According to Steven Levenkron, self-mutilation occurs when a child feels a lack of attention, or cruelty from parents or caretakers, or disconnected in their relationships with parents and or significant others, which can lead to a mental breakdown, making self-mutilative behavior become a daily routine. Self-mutilators could have usually had traumatic experiences at childhood in which they are required to receive nurturing and support from their parents or caretakers, although they experience the reverse of during their young years, making them feel anger and have rage toward themselves, but never toward others, consequently, resulting in self-mutilation which will later be used as a means to express anger.

Self-injurers also have different reasons and situations that have led them to self injure. People who self-injure usually have extreme negative emotions and bad relationships with piers family members and friends. Most self-mutilators are taught their feelings emotions about things around them are wrong and forbidden to be expressed because most come from dysfunctional homes. It is the only way that they have learned, and so they keep coming back to it. It is obviously ineffective for having a reasonable quality of life, but it can work in the short-term for reducing emotional pain. Usually self-mutilators are quite emotionally vulnerable, that is, they have a lot of ups and downs in their moods. Therefore, they have a lot of emotionality to try to deal with, just because of their biology. Further, people who self injure typically have a lot of difficulty tolerating their negative emotions without doing something impulsive to try to stop them, and they may have difficulty forming good relationships with others.

The average self-injurer tends to struggle with depression, anxiety or even post-traumatic stress disorder along with the containment of feelings as a child can which often causes them to feel empty and unable to express their feelings. In fact, most self-abusers have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused. Some self-injurers have a tendency towards impulsive aggression. Other factors such as eating disorders or substance abuse also play a major role in some abusers. According to Favazza, approximately 62% of their participants reported abuse during childhood and adolescence. The two most common forms of abuse reported by self-injurers were sexual and physical abuse. Some self-injurers reported emotional abuse or neglect as well. In many situations it is a combination of two or more forms of abuse. In a comparison study of sexually abused self-mutilators and non-mutilators, those who self-injured were over 50% more likely to have their father as the abuser (Favazza, 60). According to the same study, self-injurers suffered abuse earlier in life and for a longer period of time.

Conclusion Call to Action

Self injury exists whether you talk about it or not. As you know, ignoring anything does not make it disappear; it will not go away because you are pretending it does not exist. Self-mutilation is one of the least understood behaviors of adolescence and appears to be increasing at a rapid pace. Today for every 100,000 adolescents, it is estimated that between 750 and 1,800 will exhibit self-injurious behaviors. This translates to 150,000 to 360,000 students nationwide, more than 70% of whom are female. (Favazza, 64)The initial way to help a teen who self-injurers is to express compassion and understanding, for a person who is suffering with self-injury will usually have a high defense barrier to separate themselves from others which is their way of protecting their privacy. “The easiest way to break through this defense is to indicate that you are comfortable getting close to the person’s pain, rage, and despair”(Levenkron, 43).

There are several warning signs to inform you if someone is self-injuring, which can include unexplained or frequent injury including cuts and burns, wearing long pants and sleeves in warm weather, low self-esteem, and difficulty handling feelings, relationship problems, and poor functioning at work, school or home. Although it can be difficult to tell when someone self-injures, there are a number of signs to look for. The more obvious are scars on the body, wearing long sleeves and pants in the summer or while working out, or giving poor excuses for injuries the person may have. If there are not any apparent warnings, look for behavioral signs.

“Self-injurers may show feelings of anxiety, shame, and worthlessness. Other behaviors to look for include, “…eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, kleptomania, and other problems of compulsion (Conterio 161).” One danger connected with self-injury is that it tends to become an addictive behavior, a habit that is difficult to break even when the individual wants to stop. As with other addictions, qualified professional help us almost always necessary. It is important to find a therapist who understands this behavior and is not upset or repulsed by it.

Unfortunately, there is no single, approach that has been identified to treat self-mutilation. The most promising treatments involve a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with medications for underlying disorders. (Favazza 64). Treatment must be provided by a clinical mental health professional. This can involve hospitalization or intensive outpatient care, but if possible the self-mutilator can maintain as normal a routine as possible. The goal is to help them identify the underlying cause of their pain and help them develop alternative coping and communication skills that will build their self-esteem and create a sense of connectedness.

To prevent students from self-injury, I believe the topic of self-injury should be incorporated into school systems. Having a self-injury awareness day in schools, would inform students of the warning signs of self-injury and how to help a self-injurer. It would stop those who are thinking about starting to self-injure, and let them know that there are other ways to handle their emotions. Handing out, or even putting them in the counselor’s office, pamphlets that list different ways of handling stress and anxiety, along with warning signs that someone might be self-injuring, would be a way to inform students. However, further study is imperative to insure that those who practice the behavior continue to receive effective care, and can be informed about suicide, while learning to cope with feelings and emotions due to previous experiences and how to inform others.


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