Many individuals suffer in silence and are not vocal about their struggles. Sometimes that suffering becomes so intense that the individual will engage in self-injurious behavior. Due to the fear of not being understood, shame, or lack of support, many will internalize their struggles and endure a vicious cycle of self-injury. Self-harm is any behavior that is intended to intentionally harm yourself to release built up emotions and can be done by various means. Self-harm is not rare and can impact the lives of adolescents and adults from various socioeconomic backgrounds. With adequate treatment and support, many individuals are able to learn how to cope with their emotional distress through healthier means.
One of the most common methods of self-harm is deliberately cutting yourself with a knife or any other object without the intent of killing yourself. Other behaviors include pulling hair, scratching, picking wounds, ingesting toxic substances or consciously burning yourself out of emotional distress. Many individuals that engage in self-harm indicate that emotional triggers such as devastating sadness, overwhelming anxiety, or emotional numbness lead them to self-injury as a way to cope with their emotions. Others report that they engage in self-harm as a way to feel in control of their body and emotions, and as a means of distractions from other difficulties. Self-harm is usually linked to other mental health illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, or personality disorders.
Many adolescents that engage in self-injurious behavior report that they have been subject to bullying, family dysfunctions or conflicts, feeling disconnected, extreme internal turmoil, inability to adequately communicate their feelings, unmanageable depression, or abuse. If you are the parent of a teen and are noticing cut or burn marks on their arms, legs, or abdomen, do not ignore these signs. If you are finding knives, razors, or box cutters kept secretly in your teens room, ask them what is going on. Often, cutting will occur in areas that are easy to disclose such as the abdomen or inner thighs. If you notice that your teen is persistently wearing long sleeved clothes or long pants, even in extreme heat, be cautious of self-injurious behavior. Often times, self-harm can leave permanent scares, which furthers the feelings of shame and guilt. When trying to have a conversation with your teen, try to refrain from responding in anger or making them feel attacked. Although it may be difficult, let them know that you are there for them and care about their well-being and safety. Remind them that you will be there for them and help them find the right treatment.
Early intervention is vital in addressing feelings of hopelessness and preventing severe cases of self-harm. The best treatment will help the individual develop positive coping skills to replace coping by self-injury. Being evaluated by a team of mental health professionals is essential in evaluating for risk of suicide, developing a safety plan and learning how to address the person’s emotions. From there, the person and their therapist will work towards developing a treatment plan to address the underlying sources of distress and work to overcome their internal obstacles to growth. Family therapy may be suggested to help the family understand what their loved one is going through and how to be the best source of support. If you are noticing your loved one expressing hopelessness, low self-esteem, or impulsivity, do not ignore the signs. Be the source of support your loved one is seeking and show them that you care about their health and happiness.
Written by Mashal Rezai
Intake Coordinator, Balance Treatment Center