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When Pain Reaches A Boiling Point

Debbie Braun

Some lash outwards when they are in pain. Others turn the pain inwards. Nowhere is this as evident as in the phenomenon of self-injury. While the concept is difficult to comprehend, let alone discuss, it is precisely its compelling nature that necessitates honest appraisal. For if we don’t acknowledge, we can’t help.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

“How many of you have experienced a problem with cutting in your institution?” asked renowned psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz at a seminar offered to a wide-ranging group of American educators in Jerusalem.

Every hand in the audience went up.

Thoroughly shocked at the unanimous response, Dr. Pelcovitz thought for a moment, and then it dawned on him: these principals believed he was referring to the widespread issue of students “cutting” class.

After clarifying his intent and the misunderstanding, only two principals bashfully admitted they’d encountered the awful phenomenon in their schools. But Dr. Pelcovitz knew better: he waited a minute longer, and slowly, hand by hand, about half of the educators in the room acknowledged they’d faced the behavior.

Dr. Pelcovitz’s suspicions were confirmed: cutting, a self-injurious behavior infinitely more deleterious than playing hooky, is prevalent in significant numbers in the frum community.

 

Self-Injury: An Overview

Defined as any intentional injury to one’s own body tissue without conscious suicidal intent, self-injury (also referred to as self-harm or self-mutilation) occurs in an estimated 4 to 10 percent of Americans. Though it most commonly appears in the form of cutting, self-injurers have also been found to inflict pain through burning, scratching, hair-pulling (trichotillomania), hitting, head-banging, biting, or interfering with the healing of wounds.

“I started off using noninvasive things — like my own fingernails, which would just raise welts on my skin. But eventually I turned to anything that would inflict pain,” recounts Esther,* who began self-harming while in high school. “Over the course of my experience I used safety pins, kitchen knives, wire, broken glass, and razors. I would also prevent my scabs from healing (even those from accidental injuries), and sometimes, if I was really frustrated, I would bang my head or bite myself.”

Sufferers like Esther often inflict wounds on the wrists, upper arms, and inner thighs; many prefer to wound themselves in places that will be undetectable to others.

“I do have some faint scars lower down on my arms where I wasn’t careful enough,” admits Esther.

Psychotherapist Marcia Kesner — adjunct professor at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and clinical director of Darkah, a Flatbush residence for young women with mental illness — notes that the location of the cuts can be a good indicator of the underlying emotions.

“If the lesions are in a visible place on the body, it’s most likely that the individual has resorted to this behavior in a desperate plea for intervention. If not, it’s possible that the individual is only self-harming as a method of self-soothing in the face of pain.”

 

 

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