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Answers The Question Of "Why" From Many Angles
on December 28, 2003
Now in my mid-30's, I bought this book after seeing the movie Secretary and recognizing myself as a teen in the main character of the movie. Although, in my case, I overcame my urges to self-injure (in ways other than cutting, which this book addresses) on my own and through the process of maturation and some very focused self-examination in my 20's, I still found myself fascinated as to why I, or any person, would resort to self-mutilation as a way to feel relief and a temporary sense of peace since the act and the resulting feelings seem so incredibly incongruent. This book took me back and allowed me to see and understand myself in ways I never expected and far beyond what I had already ascertained self-mutilation was about based on my own self-understanding. It also allowed me to see where I still lean toward the behavior in subtle, almost undetectable ways even though I have been under the impression for over 15 years that I no longer "act out" or would be considered a self-mutilator.
The book is extremely well written and researched and the case studies sited enable the reader to identify - whether you are or were a self-injurer yourself or know someone who is. The author suggests many reasons why self-mutilators do what they do, why and how this gamut of behaviors addresses crucial needs they have and why it isn't as easy to refrain from when a loved one who doesn't really understand says, "Stop that!" Strong explains the behavior from psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical, chemical, environmental and medical perspectives so that one can gain a full and well rounded picture of self-mutilation, it's causes and it's effects - both overt and obvious as well as subtle and nearly imperceptible.
The most startling revelation I experienced while reading this book - which is a page turner in and of itself - is that I had the impression that I was somehow unique and special in the fact that I was a self-mutilator (because it is such a personal method of self-expression often shrouded in cultivated secrecy and privacy on the part of the self-mutilator) and that I managed to overcome my urges by finally learning how to feel my feelings and address my issues in healthier ways as "normal" people do. This book, however, made me realize that it was almost formula pre-destiny based on the circumstances of my upbringing that would serve as the basis and foundation for the ways I acted out down the road in my teenage years. I was left with the sense that, given all the criteria of what makes a injurer an injurer, I almost had no choice but to do what I did in order to survive and cope - and the act IS a form of survival and coping when you are given the message while growing up that control and perfection is crucial and any overt, yet healthy and normal, form of emotional expression is not okay for whatever reason. This realization made me a bit angry for a time and left me feeling that the path I'd taken in life that I thought was of my own free will was actually one that was chosen for me, in a sense, by those who had a hand in my upbringing; that what I had spent years attempting to address and overcome was actually something I may not have had to address at all had my formative years and childhood been different because, quite simply, self-mutilation is an effect of a cause. I was left wondering what else I may have done with my time and energy had I not had to grapple with this because, for many years, it was a behavior that consumed me - both in the doing of it and then, later, the overcoming of it.
Self-mutilation isn't something people just choose to do without reason or without a deep-seated basis of history that, in a strange way, actually supports the behavior. This book sheds illuminating light on how and why self-mutilators develop into who they are and why they do what they do and it also makes a strong case as to why this is not an act that suggest suicidal tendencies as many suspect, but rather an extreme way of trying to stay alive and save ones own life by expressing emotions, as all humans need to do, in a secretive way that prevents backlash from those around the person who have made it clear that the normal path of expression is not acceptable.
For anyone who self-mutilates and wishes to understand themselves on some very deep levels in order to gain insight - which in and of itself may generate the path toward overcoming the behavior, although some suggestions for treatment and help are given in the book - or those who know and love a person who self-mutilates but doesn't quite understand why they do what they do, thus far I have read no other book that addresses the issue better than this one does and cannot recommend it enough.