Personality Disorders

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Women Living with Self-InjuryReview - Women Living with Self-Injury
by Jane Wegscheider Hyman
Temple University Press, 1999
Review by Gail A. Rekers, Ph.D.
Sep 12th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 37)

            Scars.  We all accumulate them, our proof that we have been here on this earth and have not been idle.  A knife slips, a cut, a scar.  A pregnant woman, a baby in trouble, a c-section, a scar.  A tumor, surgery, a scar.  Usually we simply tolerate our scars, those signs of living.  Sometimes we show them off like badges of courage or honor.  Sometimes we hate them because they are disfiguring reminders of traumatic events that changed our bodies forever.


What would it be like if our scars were not accidental accompaniments of living but visible reminders to us and to those around us of self-inflicted wounds?  What if our scars were something to be ashamed of, to cover up, to hide from all but the closest of our friends? 


            Self-injury, sometimes called self-mutilation, is not a topic anyone wants to think or talk about.  The idea that someone would purposely hurt themselves badly enough to leave a scar is both repulsive and frightening to most people, even clinicians.


            Jane Wegscheider Hyman breaks the silence that surrounds self-injury by bringing us the words of 15 women who cut themselves with razors, gouge themselves, bang their heads or limbs against walls to the point of injury. 


The book is both fascinating and educational.  On the one hand, to read the actual words of someone who self-injures is fascinating to a therapist.  After all, an insatiable curiosity about human beings and behavior is one characteristic of therapists.


On the other hand, the experienced therapist will have no problem recognizing the characteristics of an addictive process.  Through all the stories and all the justifying words, what stands out is that these women are addicted to hurting themselves. 


Maybe they are addicted to the pain.  Maybe they are addicted to the endorphins released by a body in pain.   Maybe it really does not matter what these women are addicted to.  The fact is that this book is the story of 15 women addicted to self-injury and their words offer a multitude of justifications for their addiction.


The many justifications for the self-injurious behaviors left me uneasy.  The pleas for understanding left me wondering who these women thought they were fooling.  


I remember a house painter once telling me that he drank a six-pack of beer every night because the beer was the only thing that made the smell of paint in his throat go away.  But, he assured me, he absolutely was not an alcoholic.  I did not believe him. 


And I do not believe any of the justifications these 15 women give for self-injuring.  This is a book about an addiction.  Every therapist working with women and with incest or sexual assault survivors, needs to be familiar with this addiction. 


As therapists, we need to know about the process of self-injury.  We need to know all the ways women who self-injure justify their behaviors.  Most importantly, we need to get past our own emotional responses to self-injury so that we ask about it as routinely as we ask about drug and alcohol abuse.

See the publisher's description of this book.


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