A bright red scream

There have been books written recently which chronicle how disturbingly misunderstood this phenomenon has been. Many sufferers are traditionally met with antipathy by doctors, who find their self-injuring offensive. Therapists are often similarly unreceptive, erroneously labeling such people as suicidal or just setting them aside them as "borderline," a copout classification for so called manipulative, ‘difficult’ patients with inflexible, complex and unknowable disorders. It was actually hard for me personally to accept the stigma associated with self-injury. Me being a screamingly open person by nature, I didn’t bother trying to hide my self-mutilation tendencies. I’d talk about it sometimes just like I spoke of the rest of my illness(es). But unlike things like isolation, bulimia, and suicidal tendencies, (which they in some ways, understand) people seemed to greet cutting with a sort of disdain. They said it was ‘stupid’ and asked me if I was sure it wasn’t for ‘attention’. I was never quite sure how to explain it; because I wasn’t sure why I did it either. In reality, authors of these new, thankfully enlightening books tell us, cutters are people ‘frozen in trauma’. It is quite a conundrum because it is such an elusive and surprisingly widespread illness. I will try and pinpoint some of the key issues involved with self-mutilation, to encourage understanding.

"Self abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural."
Today we live in a society obsessed with appearances. It is natural and understandable for someone to always pursue ‘the perfect image’, and to be vain, but we are ultimately more disturbed by someone who does not appreciate the way they look, someone who is repelled by their own image and wishes for nothing but to change.
"Self disgust is self obsession honey, and I do as I please."
If we carefully consider our own views to a further extent, we will notice that we generally approve of body piercing, tattooing, and the like, and yet are disgusted at the thought of someone scarring themselves.
In this way, the subject is more complicated than we might first conceive of, and as with any social or psychological issue there is no right answer and no right way to behave.

Many psychologists try to explain the incontestably intriguing question as to WHY people harm themselves. The answers vary but they commonly mention personal influences, family, friends, state of mind and the way we think. There is another issue however, and this is how self-mutilation is viewed by members of our society. As other disorders such as depression and anorexia have in the past become more understood, we need to increase awareness of self-mutilation so that sufferers are not disgraced even further and driven more deeply into their neurotic compulsions. In this way self harm is in no way merely a psychological issue, but is also a sociological issue.

There are many medical and cognitive explanations for all the different categorised types of self harm, which can range from burning or cutting the skin, to deep depressions, or paranoia where the person seems to make life extremely difficult for themselves. Also anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder and bulimia nervosa, are 3 other examples. Although the issues within the incidence of self harm is highly varied, it is widely viewed as part of a psychological disorder, or more basically, that there is something wrong with a person. Something is biologically defective and this manifests itself in various types of self harming behaviour(s).

But what if there were nothing wrong with a person, nothing defective or abnormal and this was simply a way of dealing with life's difficulties. Self harm is clearly not an ideal way of behaving. It touches the same concept however as those who abuse alcohol or drugs, or those who engage in too much sex, or those who binge & purge; it simply becomes a way of surviving everyday anxieties. Everybody has their own ways of surviving, and generally alcoholism and the like are disapproved of, but accepted. We seem to be living in a society that can accept many faults, such as violence towards others, prejudice and unequal opportunities but cannot accept a person who privately harms themselves as a way of coping. One way it seems to make sense is through this quote by an author, Levenkron: "It's like the old movies where someone was hysterical, someone slapped them and they sighed thank you. We all understand the physical can mediate the emotional."
Christina Ricci explains the way in which pain makes you feel better:

"It's like having a drink. But it's quicker. You know how your brain shuts down from pain? The pain would be so bad, it would force my body to slow down, and I wouldn't be as anxious. It made me calm."

For more people in the public arena who self injure, see People who self-injure.

"Self-injury is a sign of distress, not madness. We should be congratulated on having found a way of surviving." -Cory Anderson

In most cases the cutter has found on the edge of a knife a coping mechanism that helps get them through life. We cannot simply take that away from them without helping them replace that with something else that really works. They now need to unlearn what they've learned is the only thing that works for them. And this is a long process for most people. So patience will be very important.

Of course, there are also silly attention seekers and masochists, but they do not really fit into this category. A tiny portion of this information was derived from Time magazine. The rest is from tireless curious research and being an informed patient.