“Courage consists in the power of self-recovery.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Parents feel distressed and often helpless when they discover their teen has been practicing self-mutilation. Both males and females can be affected, but we see it more often in girls.
Then teen will cut herself on parts of her body she will then keep covered up. While cutting is the most common form of self-injury, burning, head banging and scratching are also common. Other forms include biting, skin-picking, hair-pulling, hitting the body with objects or hitting objects with the body.
This behavior is a way of dealing with emotional distress. It is almost as though creating physical pain eclipses the emotional pain the person is feeling.
Often one who self-injures feels isolated and alone.
It is important not to be angry or judgmental towards a teen that is engaging in this behavior. That will only serve to increase their sense of shame and isolation. It may also lead to an increase in the behavior.
While our first instinct may be to try to get the individual to stop the behavior immediately, this may only increase his or her level of stress. What is needed is to help the person develop productive coping strategies, so there is no longer a need to resort to self-injury.
The person who self –injures is not psychotic, nor suicidal. Interestingly, self-injury is a mal-adaptive coping mechanism, a way to stay alive. People who inflict physical harm on themselves are often doing it in an attempt to maintain psychological integrity — it’s a way to keep from killing themselves. They release unbearable feelings and pressures through self-harm, and that eases their urge toward suicide
If the person seems willing to talk about it, you can explore what is causing the emotional distress, and provide support for creating new outlets for painful emotions.
If communication is difficult or unwelcome, then a doctor or therapist should be involved.
Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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Thinking for Yourself (Empowerment for Youth)