What is Self-Injury?
One of the most frightening moments in a parent’s life is when they discover that their child has been intentionally engaging in acts of self-harm. This can cause a parent to be instantly overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt. In addition, many parents are suddenly at a loss in regard to the cause of their child’s behavior and how to help. Self-injurious behaviors are typically an individual’s way of expressing and coping with problems that are causing significant suffering and emotional pain. As strange as it may sound, hurting oneself actually makes one feel better. Many tweens and teens that self-injure hide their behavior from others, including parents, because they feel ashamed or believe that no one will understand the reason for their actions. This in turn makes them feel even lonelier, worthless, and trapped which creates a complicated cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms and stressors that is likely to continue without professional help.
Common Ways Tweens and Teens Self-Injure
By making small, linear cuts on the forearm, upper arm, legs, or stomach. An individual may also choose to carve a derogatory word onto their body such as fat, stupid, loser, etc. Common objects used to cut include a staple, paperclip, knife, or razor blade.
By banging or punching objects to the point that there is bruising or bleeding. An individual may also bang or punch their own body to the point of self-harm.
By intentionally burning a part of their body or rubbing something on the skin, like an eraser, to the point that the skin is rubbed off.
One thing to
note is that while self-injurious behaviors can be very
frightening to parents and loved ones, they are typically not a
suicide attempt. One significant difference between self-harm
behaviors and suicide is intent. Those who are suicidal are
looking to end their own life, while those who self-harm are
most often engaging in the behavior to cope with life stressors.
In either situation, treatment with a professional should be
sought out immediately.
What Are the Signs of Self-Injury?
recurrent injury such as cuts or burns
- Scars that cannot be explained
- Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants every day, even in warm weather
- Depressed mood, tearfulness, lack of motivation or interest in anything
- Blaming oneself for problems or constantly thinking one is not good enough
- Sudden mood changes or out-of-control behavior
- Unexplained decline in academic functioning
What Are the Treatment Options for Self-Injurers?
Psychotherapy is the primary treatment
to help an individual stop engaging in self-harm behavior. It is
important for new coping skills to be learned to eliminate
unhealthy ways of dealing with stressors. Also, identification
of the factors leading to the self-harm behavior is crucial so
work can be done to reduce or eliminate those factors. Family
participation is a necessary part of treatment to provide
support and address family dynamics that may be related to the
behavior. The prognosis for an individual that self-injures
varies based on their emotional state, psychological state, and
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