Self-Injury – Can You Feel It?

Posted: September 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Modern Scarification (Euler’s identity)

involves scratching, etching, or superficially cutting designs, pictures, or words into the skin as a permanent body modification.[1]

In the process of body scarification, scars are formed by cutting or branding the skin. Scarification is sometimes called cicatrization (from the French equivalent).



Scarification is usually more visible on darker skinned people than tattoos. Endorphins can be released in the scarification process that can induce a euphoric state. There are also religious and social reasons for scarification, as well as aesthetic. As a part of body modification, it is also seen as a form of self-expression.


Scarification is not a precise practice; variables, such as skin type, cut depth, and how the wound is treated while healing, make the outcome unpredictable. A method that works on one person may not work on another. The scars tend to spread as they heal, so outcome design is usually simple, the details being lost during healing. Tom Skelly was the first known person to practice scarification in the United States.


Modern strike branding instruments

Human branding is one type of scarification. It is similar in nature to livestock branding.

Strike branding
This is the same process used to brand livestock.[2] A piece of metal is heated and pressed onto the skin for the brand. However, the brand is usually done piece by piece rather than all at once. For example, to get a V-shaped brand, two lines would be burned separately by a straight piece of metal, rather than by a V-shaped piece of metal.
Cautery branding
This is a less common form of branding that uses a tool similar to a cautery-iron to cause the burns.
Laser branding
The technical term for laser branding is “electrocautery branding”. The electrocautery unit is more like an arc welder for skin than a medical laser (though it is possible to use a medical laser for scarification). Electric sparks jump from the device to the skin, vaporizing the skin. This is a more precise form of scarification, because it is possible to regulate the depth and nature of the skin damage being done to it.
Cold branding
This rare method of branding is the same thing as strike branding, except that the metal branding tool is subjected to extreme cold (such as liquid nitrogen) rather than extreme heat. This method will cause the hair on the brand to grow back white and will not cause keloiding.


Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Initiation ceremony, Korogo Village, 1975.

Sepik River initiation – crocodile scarification. Korogo village, 1975. Franz Luthi

Cutting of the skin for cosmetic purposes is not to be confused with self-mutilation, which is also referred to by the euphemism “cutting.” There may be cases of self-mutilation and self-scarification for non-cosmetic reasons. Lines are cut with surgical blades. Techniques include:

Ink rubbing
tattoo ink (or another sterile coloring agent) is rubbed into a fresh cut. Most of the ink remains in the skin as the cut heals, and will have the same basic effect as a tattoo. As with tattoos, it is important not to pick the scabs as this will pull out the ink. The general public often interprets ink-rubbings as poorly done tattoos.
Skin removal/skinning
Cutting in single lines produces relatively thin scars, and skin removal is a way to get a larger area of scar tissue. The outlines of the area of skin to be removed will be cut, and then the skin to be removed will be peeled away. Scars from this method often have an inconsistent texture.
This method is uncommon in the West, but has traditionally been used in Africa. A cut is made diagonally and an inert material such as clay or ash is packed into the wound; massive hypertrophic scars are formed during healing as the wound pushes out the substance that had been inserted into the wound. Cigar ash is used in the United States for more raised and purple scars; people may also use ashes of deceased persons.


Scars can be formed by removing layers of skin through abrasion. This can be achieved using an inkless tattooing device, or any object that can remove skin through friction (such as sandpaper).

Chemical scarification uses corrosive chemicals to remove skin and induce scarring. The effects of this method are typically similar to other, simpler forms of scarification; as a result there has been little research undertaken on this method.


The common practice on healing a scarification wound is use of irritation.

Generally, the longer for a wound to heal, the more pronounced the scar will be. Thus, in order to have pronounced scars, the wound may be kept open for a protracted time. This is by abrading scabs and irritating the wound with chemical or natural irritants such as toothpaste or citrus juice. Some practitioners use tincture of iodine which has been proven to cause more visible scarring (this is why it’s no longer used for treating minor wounds). With this method, a wound may take months to heal.
Keloids are raised scars. Keloiding can be a result of genetics, skin color (darker skin types are more prone to keloiding), or irritation. Keloids are often sought for a visual, 3-D effect and for tactile effects.
  • If an enclosed area perimeter is cut or branded, the skin inside of the closed space may die off and scar due to a lack of blood flow.
If a scarification does not heal to yield a prescribed outcome, secondary scarifications may be conducted.

An alternative view is described by the acronym LITHA, meaning Leave It The Hell Alone. In body modification this is often considered the best way to reduce the risk of infection and the pain of healing.[citation needed]


Scarification produces harm and trauma to the skin; thus it is considered by many to be not safe. Infection is a concern.[3] Not only do the materials for inducing the wounds need to be sanitary, but the wound needs to be kept clean, using antibacterial solutions or soaps often, and having good hygiene in general.[4] It is not uncommon, especially if the wound is being irritated, for a local infection to develop around the wound. The scarification worker needs to have detailed knowledge of the anatomy of human skin, in order to prevent tools cutting too deep, burning too hot, or burning for too long. Scarification isn’t nearly as popular as tattooing, so it is harder to find workers experienced in scarification. Precautions are made for brandings, such as wearing masks, because it is possible for diseases to be passed from the skin into the air when the skin is burning.

See also


External links


What is Self-Injury?

Self-Injury is also termed self-mutilation, self-harm or self-abuse. The behavior is defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self. Self-injury includes:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching
  • Picking scabs or interfering with wound healing
  • Burning
  • Punching self or objects
  • Infecting oneself
  • Inserting objects in body openings
  • Bruising or breaking bones
  • Some forms of hair-pulling, as well as other various forms of bodily harm

These behaviors, which pose serious risks, may by symptoms of a mental health problem that can be treated.

Does Self-Injury lead to suicide?

Self-injury is the deliberate damaging of body tissue without the eventual intention of suicide. Self-injury is often mistaken as a failed suicide attempt, and while there are many self-injurers who are also suicidal, research shows that by far the majority of self-injurers have not considered suicide. This is one false assumption that seems to naturally occur amongst people who are unaware of self-injury.

Do Self-Injurers intend to harm themselves?

The ‘technical stuff’ aside, self-injury is not the ‘problem’ for many injurers.  It is the feelings and reasons behind the cutting that are the main problems.  Many self-injurers find it extremely difficult to express their reasons for self-injury to any specific level, which is why counseling and therapy can be so beneficial to self-injurers.

What is the cause of self-injury?

Self-injury is often combined with feelings of guilt, helplessness, rejection, self-hatred, anger, failure and loneliness.  Often these feelings stem from past or present influential events (e.g. sexual abuse, domestic violence, divorce of parents, death of loved ones, lack of care as a child, parental depression, alcoholism or critical behavior, etc.).  It must be stressed though, that often the reasons for self-harming are not as easy to pinpoint as these causes.

Why does anyone self-injure?

The cause of self-injury is highly complex. There has been some attempt to simplify the reason behind the behavior by saying it is “to relieve stress.” However, there is a high correlation between the incidences of cutting among survivors of sexual abuse. The more severe the abuse, the more severe the “self-abuse.” These kinds of correlations point to the complex interaction between the person and his/her environment and the need to closely examine the life circumstances surrounding one who self-abuses.

In light of trying to put forth a general understanding of self-abuse, those that practice these self-abusive behaviors do so in an attempt to release stress, pain, fear or anxiety. Generally practiced by teen girls – but affects at least 11 thousand boys a year as well – the teen may feel out of control regarding their life and practice these behaviors in an attempt to regain that control. Some teens state that it “feels good to be in charge of your own pain when so many others try to do it for you.”

For more information:

Who self-injures? Psychological Characteristics of Self-Injurers

The overall picture seems to be of people who:

  • Have been sexually abused
  • Strongly dislike/invalidate themselves
  • Have difficulty putting their feelings into words, so they concretize them by putting them in their bodies, thus acting out their emotions in a tangible way
  • Are hypersensitive to rejection are chronically angry, usually at themselves
  • Tend to suppress their anger
  • Have high levels of aggressive feelings, which they disapprove of strongly and often suppress or direct inward
  • Are more impulsive and more lacking in impulse control then their peers
  • Tend to act in accordance with their mood of the moment
  • Tend not to plan for the future
  • Are often depressed, suicidal and self-destructive
  • Suffer chronic anxiety
  • Tend toward irritability
  • Do not see themselves as skilled at coping
  • Do not have a flexible repertoire of coping skills
  • Do not think they have much control over how/whether they cope with life
  • Tend to be avoidant
  • Do not see themselves as empowered
  • Do not regulate their emotions well, and there seems to be a biologically based impulsivity.

For more information:…

What are the warning signs?

Warning signs that someone is injuring himself or herself include:

  • Unexplained frequent injury including cuts and burns
  • Wearing long pants and sleeves in warm weather
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor functioning at work, school or home.

For more information:

What sort of treatment is recommended for Self-Injury?

Self-injury treatment options include outpatient therapy, partial (6-12 hours a day) and inpatient hospitalization. When the behaviors interfere with daily living, such as employment, school and relationships, and or are health or life threatening, a specialized self-injury hospital program with experienced staff is recommended.

The effective treatment of self-injury is most often a combination of medication, psychodynamic therapy, which necessarily includes aspects of Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and interpersonal therapy, supplemented by other treatment services as needed.

Medication is often useful in the management of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and the racing thoughts that may accompany self-injury. Cognitive/behavioral therapy that incorporates contracts, journals, and behavioral logs are useful tools for regaining self-control. Interpersonal therapy assists individuals in gaining insight and skills for the development and maintenance of relationships, and helps individuals understand their destructive thoughts and behaviors. Services for eating disorders, alcohol/substance abuse, trauma abuse, and family therapy should be readily available and integrated into treatment, depending on individual needs.

May 29, 2008

When Connie Hanagan was 17 and a patient at a state hospital in Massachusetts, she cut her leg in three places with a piece of glass. On purpose.

To teach her a lesson, the on-call doctor sutured the wounds without an anesthetic.

“Maybe you will think twice before you cut yourself again,” he told the frightened teenager.

That’s just one of the harrowing stories Hanagan, of South Yarmouth, reveals in “Look Beyond the Scars,” her new self-published book that chronicles her “journey from self-abuse to self-love.”

In the ’50s, health professionals thought people injured themselves “because they had no feelings,” Hanagan writes in the 115-page memoir. “That was not the case. We just didn’t know how to deal with our feelings. Drops of blood represented tears I could not cry.”

“Look Beyond the Scars” offers an intimate, clear-eyed look at what once was a hidden problem. A “survivor of self-abuse” and “my own holocaust,” Hanagan is determined to help other cutters learn they are not alone and to encourage them to seek help to avoid the pain she suffered.

Her efforts are appreciated.

“This is a woman who went through all of this and survived,” says Lorraine Touchette, president of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Skills Center in West Yarmouth.

A clinical social worker, Touchette treats people who are self-injurers by teaching them skills to deal with their issues.

“They physically hurt themselves,” she says, to find a sense of relief from pain that may be triggered by trauma, physical or emotional abuse or neglect. “It’s a big problem on Cape Cod. A lot of kids are doing it.”

Statistics are hard to come by. But it’s estimated that one out of five high school and college students has a history with non-suicidal self-injury. It can manifest as cutting, scratching, picking scabs or interfering with wound healing, burning, punching objects or oneself, infecting oneself, inserting objects in body openings, bruising or breaking bones, hair-pulling and other kinds of bodily harm. Celebrities who have admitted engaging in self-abusive behavior include Princess Diana, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.

Once thought to be a behavior primarily among female adolescents, new research shows that more males and younger children are doing it, says Wendy Lader, clinical director and co-founder of S.A.F.E. Alternatives, a nationally recognized treatment program based in Illinois.

“People self-injure when they don’t want to feel a painful emotion like anger or sadness,” Lader says. “The kids who are doing this are in distress. They are trying to find a way to cope.”

Studies show that many self-injurers experience physical or sexual abuse during childhood.

Cutting is a much less secretive practice than it was 20 years ago because of movies and the media, Lader says.

Hanagan buried her secret until 10 years ago when she caught a segment on ABC’s “20/20” about a college student who was a cutter.

“It was the first time I ever heard anyone talking about it on TV,” said the petite, personable woman during a recent interview.

Watching the show, memories came flooding back, and Hanagan felt compelled to write about her experiences. She started writing journal entries on her computer, and then the journal began to shape itself into a book.

Writing her painful story “was cathartic, but the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said. “Every thought and emotion came back to me. It still hurts when I think about myself back then.”

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// ]]>The youngest of five children, Hanagan was a tomboy who grew up in Dorchester. She says love and affection were rarely shown in her strict Irish-Catholic family. At age 7 she was molested by a neighbor but was afraid to tell anyone. It happened again several times when she was 13.

The abuse left her feeling ashamed, dirty and guilty.

Hanagan also had difficulties in school because of a hearing problem and dyslexia, and she was placed in special classes.

“I felt like a dummy,” she said.

She began cutting herself in the fourth grade by scratching her arm with a staple. Later, the cutting escalated to razor blades and broken glass.

“I needed a release,” she said. “I hated myself.”

At 15, Hanagan began drinking to numb her feelings, but alcohol only increased her compulsion to cut. The self-abuse went on for eight to nine years. In and out of state hospitals for five years, Hanagan was labeled schizophrenic and a troublemaker. And, she met other girls who were cutters.

Treatment was often punitive, like locking girls in seclusion rooms. “They (hospital staffs) had no clue how to deal with us,” she said.

“Nobody knows why anyone does this,” Hanagan said. “I was hurting inside. Cutting was a release; a way of letting the pain out.”

What would have helped her back then, she said, was someone who listened and showed concern and love.

Hanagan finally stopped cutting in her 20s, and she credits part of her recovery to simply growing up and maturing.

“I began to find my voice,” she said, “and to confide in some people about myself.”

Hanagan finally sought counseling about 10 years ago after the deaths of her mother and her niece, who had battled an eating disorder.

“Therapy,” she said, “helped me to value myself more.”

Hanagan has always worn long sleeves to hide the scars on her arms. Yet she managed to move on with her life, earning a GED and working at various times as a registered barber, sign painter, mechanic’s helper, nurse’s aide and custom framer. She even had her own business.

She declines to give her age, but she is now retired and taking classes at Cape Cod Community College.

Hanagan’s physical scars will never disappear. But she believes she has finally come to terms with her psychological issues.

“When something bothers me,” she said, “I don’t hurt myself.

“I cry.”