Self-injurious behaviors, what they mean, and why you should take them seriously.
More and more we hear about teenagers cutting themselves. Often, parents or adults will express that they feel that cutting is just a “fad,” or it’s something all teens seem to experiment with nowadays, or a just a cry for attention that should not be acknowledged. Cutting – or engaging in self-injurious behaviors – can mean a lot of different things. But the chances that your teen’s cutting means nothing is 0%, guaranteed.
Self-injurious behavior like cutting, scratching, burning, or pulling hair can actually be a way of coping with overwhelming stress or emotions. You might be thinking, “Cutting as a coping skill? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
I wish I was….Teens will often share that they are either emotionally overwhelmed and feel so much pain on the inside, that experiencing physical pain, like cutting is a way to drown out, numb, or temporarily escape internal pain. Sometimes teens report that they feel so numb all the time, and that cutting is the only way they can actually feel anything.
Cutting can sometimes mean that your teen is suicidal. While that is usually not the case, it is important for suicidal thoughts or potential suicidal intent behind the cutting to be assessed by a professional to make sure that your child is safe.
Warning signs and things to look for:
- Your teen starts wearing long sleeves or long pants, when that type of clothing in not warranted, like….in the middle of summer.
- They start to wear a ton of bracelets around their wrists, so that the skin cannot be seen.
- Your teen typically “shows skin” then all of a sudden is covering up.
- If they spend A LOT more time in the bathroom or in their room then they usually do.
- *While most people think of cutting as occurring around the wrists, some teens may cut on other, less visible locations on their body such as the legs or hips so the behavior will go undetected.
Essentially, cutting is a maladaptive coping skill. It brings your teen immediate, momentary relief, but is harmful both in the short-term and the long-term, as cutting can create feelings of shame, disappointment making your teen feel even worse, and it can leave behind life-long physical and sometimes emotional scars. Therapy can help by teaching your teen positive and adaptive coping skills to effectively and safely deal with their emotions and stress. If you feel as though your teen’s cutting is a “cry for help,” take a moment and consider what your teen is trying to communicate but is having difficulty verbalizing. If you recently discovered that your teen has been cutting or suspect that they might be, please give us a call today!