On Harry Potter

"Dobby Had to Iron His Hands, Sir!"

Self-Inflicted Cuts, Burns, and Bruises in Harry Potter
By E. David Klonsky, Ph.D., Rebecca Laptook, M.A.

Mental health professionals have long known that some people purposely cut, burn, bruise, or otherwise hurt themselves. This phenomenon is known as self-injury or self-harm. Although self-injury is distinguished from suicidal behaviors, which are performed with the intent to end one’s life, self-injury can still be dangerous and a sign of psychological or emotional distress. For example, people who self-injure are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and a range of other psychiatric difficulties compared to people who do not self-injure (Klonsky, Oltmanns, & Turkheimer). Although behaviors such as skin-cutting and burning may sound rare, they are not uncommon. Would you believe that 8 percent of middle school students (Hilt et al.), 14 to 15 percent of high school students (Laye-Gindhu & Schonert-Reichl), and almost 20 percent of college students (Whitlock, Eckenrode, & Silverman) have engaged in self-injurious behavior at least once? Surprised? Well, you may also be surprised to hear that self-injurious behaviors seem to be just as common in the Harry Potter series. Don’t believe us? Then read on!

This essay will discuss what we can learn about self-harm from psychological research and the Harry Potter series in order to gain a better understanding of this perplexing behavior. We will be focusing on a particularly intriguing aspect of self-injury: Why would people choose to hurt themselves? After all, people generally strive to avoid pain and injury as much as possible. We wear seat belts when driving, helmets when biking, thimbles when sewing, gloves when gardening, pads when playing sports,  …

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