A page devoted to acronyms, I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that! Hopefully by the time you finish reading this you will agree that they have been worth some thought.
While the title of this site mentions self-injury, that phrase is not specific enough to what we are focused on here. For example, every person I’ve ever met has self-injured in some form. Who has not eaten a stack of potato chips or a greasy cheeseburger? Not gotten enough sleep? Pushed themselves too hard? Smoked something or drank something toxic, whether it’s alcohol or soda… The point is, what we are considering here is a form of self-injury that is more direct, primal, than most of those other forms. People who cut, burn, punch or pick themselves are using a form of self-injury that many cannot comprehend as having purpose, and are often repulsed by. Most people understand eating too many donuts. Putting a knife to one’s body, not so much…
So the term “self-injury” is too global. When I began The Cutting Edge newsletter I created a phrase I thought was a bit more descriptive, a term that would at least be different from the most commonly used “self-mutilation,” a label that appalled me and I knew was not accurate. So I began to write about “Self-Inflicted Violence” (SIV). While that phrase got reacted too rather severely, over time it began to make sense to others. Yes, the acts we are discussing here are acts of violence. But we do not know the motivation for these acts of violence (as opposed to the presumption that mutilation is the goal of people’s cutting). I argue that the wounds of self-inflicted violence (SIV) are the acts of self-defense. SIV, while appearing to be only destructive, actually serves a purpose for the people that need it (yes, if people don’t need to do it, they don’t). SIV is a multipurpose tool that some survivors of trauma utilize to cope, these acts of violence are meaningful and potentially even life-saving. This concept is the basis of this site and the ground that we need to lay to understand not only self-injury, but healing as well.
As I continued to work and teach and publish, the concept of SIV took hold rather than some of the other phrases read in psychiatric texts. I was fairly content with the phrase, but not entirely. My lightbulb moment came years ago when a newsletter subscriber wrote that she was uncomfortable with the word “inflict,” saying it felt a bit dramatic. I agreed and asked for a suggestion, and I got one. Brilliant and simple, the word “directed.” The violence is not inflicted, it is directed towards the self as an act of self-preservation.
Yet the SIV phrase was well-indoctrinated into all the work that came before. That is, until I took a break from it this past year or more. Now that I’ve begun to create this web site from the ground up, I’ve decided to utilize the phrase “self-directed violence” (SDV) here and it is a deep relief to make the change. Beloved Canadian subscriber who led me to the best word, thank you!
Perhaps the greatest benefit of this challenge of searching for the most descriptive language is the journey itself. SDV is not about focusing on the wounds, it is about understanding the need for the violence. We cannot heal what we don’t understand and what feels like a lifeline, regardless of how horrific it might appear to others. Let us consider the power of language as we move forward. While using the phrase “person living with the need for self-directed violence” may seem cumbersome, it is radically different from calling someone a “cutter,” “burner,” or “borderline.” What do you think?