Self injury is best defined as the act of deliberately destroying body tissue at times to change a way of feeling. Self injury can occur in the absence of any intent to die. Self injury or self injurious behaviors has increased in frequency in adolescents. Teens appear to be the hardest hit population with regards to self injury. Self-injury often begins around the ages of 12 to 14. According to The Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “The most common forms of this behavior are cutting and burning. The least common forms of self-harm include pulling out bodily hairs, punching walls, and ingesting toxic substances or sharp objects.” Self harm can be viewed as a form of maladaptive coping for teens struggling with extreme levels of emotions and stress.
Nonetheless, self-injury is an unhealthy and dangerous act. In our practice, we have see teens that injure themselves regularly as well as teens who may hurt themselves at moments when they need an immediate release from built-up tension, stress, or high emotions experienced. So how can we prevent self injury and how do you recognize the signs your teen is self harming?
Teenagers may self-harm for different reasons. Self-harm might be something teenagers try once or twice out of curiosity, or it might be a sign of serious stress or distress. Teens may self harm to release stress or strong feelings/emotions, to distract themselves or escape from difficult situations or feelings, feel in control, to feel “something” – for example, some young people say they can’t feel emotions so they get ‘comfort’ from feeling physical pain, or to express feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem or self-hatred, or the belief that they can’t be helped.
Included below is a list of important signs to look for if you suspect your teen is self harming:
If you suspect or discover your teen is engaging in self-harm or self-injurious behaviors it is important to stay calm, take a non-judgemental approach, be respectful, and actively listen to your teen. Understand that you may have feelings of guilt, confusion, anger, or even panic. Keeping the dialogue open with your teen and initiating communication with your teen is important as it may give you some insight into your teen’s thoughts and feelings and some ideas about how you can help. You want to reassure your teen that strong feelings are normal but can be hard to manage. You can ask your child questions about the self-harm, with the understanding that people who self-harm might feel ashamed about it. That’s why it’s important to stay calm, not judge and listen silently without interrupting.
Seeking out professional treatment is very important if your child is self-harming. Professional help can aid you to support your child at home.
A mental health professional can help teenagers understand why they’re self-harming, what triggers the self-harming and how to stop it. It might include helping teenagers to understand and manage strong emotions, and learn more effective ways of managing and expressing strong thoughts and feelings. It is also helpful to let your child know that it’s normal to reach out to friends or family when something upsetting happens. Share with us your successes and challenges with teens who self-injure by leaving a comment below.
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