Imagine… wanting to inflict physical pain on yourself by deliberately hurting yourself. For the purpose of feeling better.
You may be wondering, “why…”?!? Why would someone intentionally injure themselves?
For some, self-injury, sometimes referred to as self-mutilation, rapidly diminishes physiological and psychological tension. Self-injurious behaviors include: cutting (aka “carving”), scratching, branding, marking, burning, scraping, biting, bruising, hitting and picking or pulling at skin and hair (Matas, 2016). Specifically, it it is defined as a deliberate harming of your own body WITHOUT a conscious attempt at suicide (Attonito & Glovach, 2005).
It is more common with teens, than any other age group in the life span. It has become an epidemic in some populations.
For some, “cutting” may be used as a way to “cut through” emotional and/or social circumstance (Brady, 2014).
For many reading this, you may not even know about the alarming epidemic of self-injury. You may have never even heard of it.
But for some parents reading this, unfortunately, you may know first-hand the terror that can be felt when one finds out that their teen is “cutting” or injuring themselves in some way. Yikes! It can feel like your world is turned upside down. It can feel frightening, mysterious, and confusing for sure.
Self-injury is sometimes used as a desperate attempt to diminish tough emotions, to achieve proof of “alive-ness”, or relieve socially related emotional pain. Sometimes, when kids hear that someone in their peer group “cuts”, they may see self-injurious behavior as a choice for them as well. Particularly, if they do not already have a healthy set of coping mechanisms in place. It really creates a distorted relationship with one’s own body, as the person inflicting the harm, is also the person being harmed .
As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Play Therapist, specializing in Anxiety and Depression, I have experience with helping teens heal what is at the root(s) of the pain and to move past self-injurious behavior into healthier choices of coping and emotional self-regulation.
It has been my experience that teens that self-injure are often attempting to deal with overwhelming stress and difficult emotions such as loneliness, hopelessness, anger, isolation, and persistent thoughts. In essence, self-injury is really a maladaptive coping tool. That’s why one of the goals of treatment is to put healthy, coping skills into place as a replacement.
The effects of self-injury can feel absolutely devastating. Unfortunately, self-injury can become somewhat addictive. Sometimes teens go back to “cutting” to relieve emotional pain when the emotional disturbance feels heavy again if healthy coping skills aren’t integrated into their life. Addressing the tough emotions can decrease the desperate, determined search for relief from the emotional pain.
In therapy, I help clients heal from the emotional distress, as well as provide an emotionally safe environment for my clients to learn and experience healthier, more effective coping skills to use when the difficult emotions overwhelm.
Through my work, I have seen rapid, long term change with a combination of EMDR Therapy, Mindfulness Training, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and specific interventions to eliminate self-harm. This type of therapeutic treatment helps clients reprocess what is at the core of the emotional pain and helps them to move past feeling the need to self-injure to feel relief, while providing tools to find clarity and calm. Importantly, the goal of therapy doesn’t stop at keeping teens safe and emotionally stable, but it really goes far beyond that – to help them feel PEACE, JOY, and HOPE in their life again.
If you or someone that you love self-injures, there is HOPE. This can feel scary for everyone involved. Support is vital. Therapy can help.
Attonito, K., & Glovach, D. (2005). Self-injury in children. [electronic resource]. Millis, MA : Aquarius Health Care Media, 2005.
Brady, M. (2014) Cutting the silence: Initial,impulsive self-cutting in adolescence, Journal of Child Psychotherapy: Vol. 40, 3
Matas (2006). Stressed teens self-mutilate: Two psychologists to discuss depressive behaviors tonight at Old Vail Middle School. AZ Daily Star (Tucson, AZ).