By Marta Aizenman, Ph.D. Cook College, Rutgers University

Some college students prone to self-injury

Do you know someone who cuts him- or herself on purpose? This harmful and highly addictive behavior afflicts large numbers of college students, including some at Rutgers University. Self-injury takes many forms. In mild cases, a student may bite her nails. In more serious ones, students may feel a persistent urge to pick at their skin, burn themselves with a cigarette, cut themselves with a razor, bang their heads, or stop wounds from healing. Clinically defined, as "the willful alteration of the body as a coping strategy to restore emotional equilibrium," extreme cases include acts of mutilation. Although not intending to commit suicide, death sometimes results.
The behavior crosses gender and cultural lines. While often starting in childhood, the stresses of entering college may" also trigger self injury.
Students who intentionally injure themselves often seek to lessen deep emotional pain. This may be due to a sense of powerlessness (over a very difficult semester), or profound doubts about self worth. Some students struggle to escape from emotional numbness, and inflict pain to return to reality. Others suffer from intense shame and guilt and punished themselves for imagined sins. For all of them, the body becomes a canvas where they can express their feelings.
Students who self-injure may fear rejection and change have low self-esteem, or high levels of anxiety and anger towards themselves and others. At increased risk are those who have been physically or sexually abused or suffer from eating disorders or other psychological distress.
Recovery is possible, although not simple. For those who self-injure, steps may include:
-Recognizing the harm done to your own body
-Decoding the reason and purpose for these injuries

-Developing healthier ways to cope with stresses and the underlying problems (For instance, exercise when feeling anxious, have a list of friends to call when feeling lonely, find ways to relax and feel calm) Often, the underlying problems are complex and deeply rooted, and professional assistance makes a difference. The counselors at Rutgers University are trained to help students work through such issues and develop new coping skills in order to lead a healthier life. If you or anyone you know is injuring their body, talk to us. We are only a phone call away.


The Feeling of Depression
Cook College Counseling Center Newsletter

January/February 1999 Page 9 EOF Newsletter December 1997.


Low self-esteem can steal happiness from people's lives
The Princeton Packet


Stress after Trauma. Princeton Packet, September 21, 2001.
Stressful Feelings After Trauma are a Normal Reaction.
Visions. Department of Family and Consumer Science.
Volume 14. Number 4. 2001.


Uncoupling. Princeton Packet, September 14, 1999, pp.14A.


Perfectionism. Princeton Packet, June 22, 1999, pp.12A.

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© 2007 Marta Aizenman
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