+When children hurt themselves intentionally, otherwise known as self-injury, often by cutting or scratching themselves as one way of managing difficult emotions, they and their parents have a huge issue to deal with.
There probably isn’t much more disturbing news for parents than to find out that their children are involved in self-injury. Unfortunately, this is more common than many might think, especially when it comes to young girls. Some experts believe that as many as 25% of teens are involved with self-injury.
The most common type of self-injury is scratching or cutting of their skin with any item that can draw blood, like razors, pen caps, or paperclips. However, some even burn themselves, pick at their skin or existing wounds or even go as far as hitting themselves. Experts say this often starts just around puberty.
Not About Suicide
Children who develop a habit of self-injury may look like they have suicidal behavior, but this is not what it’s all about. Those who participate in self-injury really aren’t trying to commit suicide. Instead, they are trying to get rid of some of their emotional distress they might be experiencing. This type of behavior does indicate that there is a depth of psychic pain may eventually could lead to suicide attempts. This type of behavior is very dangerous, even if it doesn’t indicate a desire to end their lives. Those who commit self-injury may end up hurting themselves very seriously even though they may not have actually intended to do so. Sometimes their self inflicted injuries can get infected and may lead to serious medical issues and complications.
Trying to Understand the Drive
It can be difficult to understand why anyone would participate in self-injury as a way to find some sort of relief for their emotional issues. Some who participate in this behavior say that it serves as a kind of distraction from the intense emotional pains.
Others who are involved in self-injury say they do it because they feel dead inside and want to be able to feel something. They seem to be locked down tight because of something that’s going on in their personal lives they don’t feel capable of feeling anything. So, they hurt themselves to be able to feel at least something.
Way of Communication
In some cases of self-injury they feel like it is their only way to communicate. Some who cut themselves may be trying to get concern and empathy from their parents or other adults in their lives. A child might be feeling desperate and use self-injury to try and communicate their feelings.
A Way of Coping
Self-injury really isn’t a good form of communication. There are some children who are very secretive about their behavior and tend to be focused just on ameliorating the pain they have and don’t want to share it. This is what experts call maladaptive coping tools. Even though participating in self-injury isn’t the best way to solve problems, it could bring them temporary relief.
Sadly, this kind of relief in turn makes self-injury behavior even more reinforcing so children start to rely on it as their only way to deal with the painful emotions they are dealing with. The longer they continue the self-injury the more reinforcing it is to them.
Red Flags to Look For
If you are a parent and suspect that your child might be involved with self-injury, but you’re not quite sure, look for the following signs:
- They talk about self-injury
- Suspicious scars
- Wounds that get worse or just don’t heal
- Cuts always in the same place
- Increasing isolation
- Collecting sharp items like pieces of glass, small scissors, safety pins, razor blades, etc.
- Wearing long sleeves even in hot weather
- Not wanting to get involved in social activities
The need for a teen to get involved in self-injury is usually triggered by certain events in their lives. Probably the most common trigger for self-injury or cutting could be the feeling of being rejected, especially by a close friend, or a boyfriend. Sometimes it can be the overall feeling of just being criticized or being left out.
Self-injury, especially cutting can actually be a copy cat type of behavior often inspired by the many YouTube videos that actually show others cutting themselves. These types of videos have unfortunately made self-injury seem more normal and therefore it tends to encourage it.
Getting Help for Self-Injury
If you realize that your child is hurting themselves, even if they claim it was just a one time thing they did, it’s vital that you consider getting them some type of help. Sure, it might be true that some children may experiment with self-injury, especially if they know others who do it, but, it is still serious and very dangerous behavior and as a parent, you don’t want to ignore it. It could mean there is a real mental issue that needs to be addressed.
Types of Help
As a parent it’s important that you find out from a professional if your child is in need of help. Here are a few things to consider:
- Evaluation – To start with, you really should consider having your cchild evaluated by a professional trained in mental health issues. It’s important to find out whether your child is hurting themselves or not. If they are, then you need to find out what emotional difficulties they are going through.
- DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy – This is a type of therapy that’s highly recommended for treating someone suffering from self-injury behavior. A trained professional will work with your child to try and help them to learn to tolerate their uncomfortable feelings they might be experiencing.
- CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This type of therapy a professional will teach your child to learn how to challenge any negative or distressing thoughts they might have and how to recognize the bad pattern and then train them to think outside of it all. CBT tends to be very successful treatment with teens.
- Family Therapy – If it’s discovered that there are some things going on at home such as fighting, health issues, a death, job loss, etc. family therapy might be what is needed so that the entire family can work together on their child’s emotional troubles.
- Medication – Sometimes a professional may discover that there is another disorder that’s involved and they may need to prescribe medication to help treat your child’s condition. Sometimes a child might need a combination of therapy and medication in order to treat the child who is involved in self-injury.
One More Thing
It is highly recommended that those families who have children who harm themselves try to be as supportive and open as they can be in order to help their child through this. This behavior is extremely hard for most people to understand and can be hard to empathize with, but it’s important that parents do their best to do just that. Parents need to understand that self-injury behavior is not something that a child can just stop doing because they are told to. It is something that needs therapy and to be understood.