Peer Support for Abuse Survivors
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The phenomenon you describe is referred to as self injury. It is a mechanism that some people use to try to cope with an overwhelming emotional feeling of pain, often accompanied by a very distressing state of over-arousal. When people self injure, they turn an unbearable and difficult to describe “inside” sensation into a tangible and measurable “outside” sensation. Some people report that self injury makes them feel more “real” at times when they feel unreal. There are a variety of psychological mechanisms that can contribute to this. An excellent first reference can be found in the Self Injury Fact Sheet on this web site:
The books linked to that page are excellent comprehensive references.
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