Self-Injury and Eating Disorders
What is Self-Injury?
Self-injury is characterized as a deliberate and direct injury or damage of body tissue, usually intended without suicidal ideation. Other terms synonymous with self-injury are self-mutilation, self-harm, and self-poisoning. The most familiar form of self-injury is cutting of the skin but also includes other behaviors, including scratching, hair-pulling, burning, beating or hitting body parts, intruding with wound healing, or the consumption of toxic substances or objects. Although suicide is not typically the objective of self-harm, there is an increased risk of suicide in individuals engaging in these behaviors. Research has demonstrated that individuals who inflict self-harm do so in order to relieve and regulate internal experiences, such as emotions, memories, and/or physical sensation. Self-injury may be utilized as an attempt to release anger, escape emotional pain, or in effort to gain a sense of control. Self-injury is a co-occurring disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with self-injury, it is likely that another illness is involved as well, such as substance abuse or an eating disorder.
Self-Injury Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of self-harm include the following:
- Fresh scratches, cuts, bruises or other observable wounds
- Broken bones
- Several scars resulting from cuts or burns
- Frequent isolation
- Social and familial difficulties
- Use of long sleeves or pants to cover injuries
- Claims to having recurrent accidents or collisions
What Causes Self-Injury
There are several correlating factors that can contribute to the risk of engaging in self-injurious behaviors. Such factors include psychological, genetic, substance abuse, medical history, and familial components. Individuals who frequently self-harm experience many negative implications, including physical consequences, low self-esteem, depression, relationship difficulties, and in some cases, suicide. There is a correlation between individuals with eating disorders and self harm behaviors.
Connection & Relationship between Self-Injury and Eating Disorders
Men and women who sufferer with eating disorders have an increased chance of engaging in self-harm behaviors; likewise, self-harming behaviors may be exhibited as eating disorder symptoms, such as induced vomiting or exercising excessively with the principal intention of inflicting pain or self-injury. Therefore, when considering and evaluating eating disorder symptoms, determining the function of the symptom becomes essential.
Treatment of Eating Disorders and Self-Injury
Treating co-occurring diagnoses is essential to the progression of recovery and healing from both the eating disorder and self-injurious behaviors. Treatment approaches should be individualized and encompass a combination of psychotherapeutic methods and medications. Forms of psychotherapy that may be useful in treating eating disorders and self-injury behaviors are family intervention, group therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A comprehensive treatment plan will allow for the improvement of the behaviors seen in both self-injury and eating disorders for you or your loved one.
Articles on Eating Disorders & Addiction
- Eating disorders are seldom independent destructive behaviors. Often, they are part of a co-occurring issue. It is not uncommon for individuals suffering from eating disorders to simultaneously engage in other behaviors that are self-injurious. The sufferer can become trapped within a dangerous cycle of continual self-destruction. Read this article to learn more about Self-Harm as a Co-Occurring Issue of Eating Disorders
Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 3, 2012
Page last updated: September 3, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorders Help & Information