Self-Harm is diagnostically defined as injuring oneself in order to alleviate or relieve emotional pain or worry. This is most often accomplished by cutting or burning and has increasingly become a coping mechanism for adolescents struggling to deal with extreme levels of stress. The causes behind self-harming behavior are not concrete because there are no specific cultural or socioeconomic risk factors; however, more females than males engage in the behavior. Despite what it may seem like, self-harm isn’t necessarily an indication of suicidal behavior or intentions. Rather, participants are seeking quick relief from stress or overwhelming emotion.
Why Do Teens Self-Harm?
The logic behind self-harm can be confusing to those who don’t understand what the victim is gaining from the experience. Physically, self-harm produces a rush of endorphins into the system, which results in a temporary numbing or pleasurable sensation. Teens that participate in such behavior are seeking a “high” that effectively separates them from the stress or strong emotion they are experiencing at the moment. Some of the more common stressors that lead teens to self-harm are:
- Emotional detachment or invalidation from parents or caregivers.
- Feeling emotionally dead or “invisible” to their peers. Self-harms reminds them that they are alive.
- Desire to fit in with a peer group that encourages and rewards such behavior.
- Girls may use self-harm to cope with the expectations of overly demanding parents, most specifically in situations where the father plays the most dominant role.
- Academic expectations
- Poor body image
What Should I Watch For?
Self-harm is often a secretive behavior and teens will go to great lengths to keep it from their parents and other authority figures. Some of the signs to watch for are:
- Burns or cuts on the arms, legs or stomach. Generally self-harmers injure themselves where it can be covered up.
- Lengthy isolation after a fight, bad day at school or other negative experience.
- Self-harming behavior among your teen’s close peers.
- Finding razors, scissors, knives, lighters or matches among your teens bedroom possessions.
- Reports of concern from siblings, teachers or friends who have observed physically destructive behavior in your teen.
How Can Self-Harming Behavior Be Prevented?
Parents play an important role in preventing their teens from engaging in negative behavior, including self-harm, during the adolescent years. One of the most integral things you can do is attempt to make spending time together as a family a high priority. Teens experience uncertainty in almost every aspect of their social world, so it is important that they feel loved, accepted and noticed in their home environment. Working through problems and issues together sets a good example for handing setbacks and stress in a healthy way.Ultimately, you want to guide him toward healthier coping mechanisms through open communication and non-judgmental understanding.
If your teen is engaging in self-harming behavior and does not seem to be responding to your efforts to help him, consider seeking professional therapeutic help. The earlier a disorder is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be managed effectively. If you have questions about your child’s behavior or would like a free consultation, please contact Liahona Academy at 1-800-675-8101.