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One thing a lot of people seem to be assuming it that self-mutilation is done only for attention. This is far from true, and practically the only reason people have this view of it is because the people who self-mutilate for this reason tend to be the most visible.
The primary reason people engage in this behavior is because is has an antidepressant/anti-anxiety effect. The act of causing pain, as you should know, causes the body to release to release endorphins, which is the bodies natural painkillers and is very similar chemically to morphine (Which is the same reason people eat spicy food.) So naturally, this causes feelings of anxiety and depression to decrease in the subject, at least temporarily. (Whats really fascinating is that in some cases you can even see effects similar to drug usage, such as pupil dilation). The downside of this is that and addiction can form, causing the subject to come to rely on this as a coping mechanism. The amount of physical damage they have to do slowly increases as they build up a tolerance to the endorphins, and if they attempt to quit or are hospitalized under observation they will experience physical symptoms. Science bitch!
There are also several other reasons someone may self-mutilate, in addition to the primary one. A common one in cases of abuse is that the patient needs to control something. Since all they have that is theirs is there body, they exercise control over it in the form of self-mutilation. Another common reason is to either encourage or inhibit dissociative symptoms. Dissociation is when their is a disconnect between the mind and the physical world. While everyone dissociates to some extent, either daydreaming in class or letting your mind wander while doing a task you are familiar with, many patients dissociate when under stress. This can be anything from feelings of unreality (depersonalization and derealization), to loosing time, with the most extreme form of it being MPD (DID)
As you may already be able to guess, the act of causing pain can often bring a subject who is starting to dissociate back to reality. Other subjects, though, use it to induce a dissociative state in order to numb out any negative emotions they may be feeling. Sometimes a patient may even report using self-mutilation for both reasons at different occasions, often using a different form of injury to induce, or inhibit (I.E. Burning to inhibit a dissociative state, cutting or bruising to cause one).
Some misconceptions; Those who self-mutilate are not always or often weak; it is a combination of biological and environmental factors that may cause this behavior. For example, Borderline Personality Disorder, the psychiatric diagnosis most often associated with self-mutilation, is often found in patients with a difficult home life. However, this is not necessarily the sole cause of the disorder. Borderline patients almost always have a smaller, overactive amygdala and hippocampus, causing them to feel emotions more intensely than the average person, and also increasing the chance of displaying addictive behaviors, such as self mutilation.
It is also a myth that only women engage in self-mutilation. While men are more likely to act out, many men engage in self mutilation. Speaking from a personal account, far more men in the military have a history of self-mutilation than women (Knew two women in the battalion i was in who had a history of it, and 6 men).
It also is a myth that it is primarily and adolescent phenomena. While adolescents get the most attention, it can be found through all the age groups, with a slight increase in geriatric patients, who are more likely to have untreated depression and feelings of loss of control. Which is why I never want to go into geriatrics. Old people can be ******* depressing.
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