Superficial self-mutilation, the most common type observed, is currently believed to exist in 1.4 percent of the population. 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, preasure from multiple personalities, desire for enhanced sexuality, euphoria, venting anger, relief from alienation and impassivity.
Emotional, physical and sexual abuse can cause psychological trauma leading one to resort to self-mutilation. In a study by Jennifer Harris, investigating the stories of six currently self-mutilating women, all of the women had suffered abuse earlier in life. All of these women also suffered from eating disorders and professed a need for the respite offered by cutting or burning. One professed, "I'm addicted to it. I couldn't live without the release it gives me."
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. These were not women with schizophrenia, mental retardation, or any of the other disorders associated with major and stereotypic self-mutilation. Like most superficial self-mutilators, they would appear quite normal. Amongst these women, the most common practices were found to be skin cutting (72%), skin burning (35%), self-hitting (30%), interference with wound-healing (22%), severe skin-scratching (22%), hair-pulling (10%), and bone-breaking (8%).
|©2002 Alexander V. Timofeyev, Katie Sharff, Nora Burns, Rachel Outterson|