Self-harm is an attempt to release stress, pain, fear or anxiety. The teen may feel out of control and practice these behaviors in an attempt to regain control. Some teens state that it feels good to be in charge of their own pain rather than merely reacting to the pain others inflict. The practice of self-abuse or mutilating behavior is on the rise nationwide. Nearly 1 in 200 girls ages 13 to 19 regularly practices self-abusive behavior and at least 11,000 boys a year as well. There are several types of self-abusive and mutilating behaviors:
Cutting: Using a razor blade, knife, broken mirror or a piece of glass whatever they can and cutting the skin allowing it to bleed openly for several minutes.
Burning: Placing cigarettes, hot metal, lighters, or lit matches to the skin and causing a burn.
Wound Interference: Creating a wound, whether it is a cut, burn, bruise, or bump, and preventing it from healing by tearing, picking or pushing on the wound.
Picking: Literally picking at skin until a wound is created and bleeds.
It is very difficult to identify a person who practices self-abusive behaviors since the teens that self-abuse are not usually the ones who get numerous tattoos or piercings. Self-abusive teens are generally good students, have normal or above normal appearances, are involved in school activities and have parents who are involved in the community. Most come from above average income levels and both parents may work outside the home. However, as they want to keep their abuse secret, these teens will not usually participate in activities that require changing clothes at school or will change in secret when no one is around and may not have many close friends. Self-abusive teens tend to internalize conflicts with friends, school or parents. As a result, the fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, sadness, isolation, frustration and emotional pain inside builds to a point where the teen feels they will explode. To prevent this and to deal with the overwhelming emotions they may feel they become involved in self-mutilation.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Some signs include the presence of fresh, healing and/or scars from old injuries, a knife, lighter or matches in purse or book bag with no logical explanation for it being there, making excuses for injuries, wanting to do own laundry, locking self in bathroom for long periods of time with water running and the presence of a new injury upon leaving bathroom, blood or burn stains in the inside of clothing as well as becoming overly defensive when approached about the possibility of self-abusive behavior.
Self-mutilization is a complex behavior but therapy can help teens get to the real issues driving this destructive practice.