There is a show called, “Strange Addictions” that covers a huge gamut of self-prescribed addictive behaviors from licking the fur off of a cat and eating it, stinging yourself with bees or even sniffing/snorting moth balls. Although there were many other strange and peculiar self-harming addictions, some common factors stood out.
Many found their addiction as a way of coping with other issues in their life. Secondly, some of these types of addictions also suffered from other mental health disorders. When listening to their stories, they often mention a pivotal point in their life that triggered this issue.
So with this post, I would like to discuss some of the ways teen boys and girls utilize self-harm to help them get through everyday life. My hope is that it will bring some type of awareness of the very serious dangers of self-injury.
Although there are many avenues to self-harm, we will focus on some of the most pronounced type of self-injury among pre-teens to young adult.
Cutting – using anything sharp that cuts open the skin. Usually found on wrists, arms ankles, stomach and other areas where it can be concealed. Majority of cutters are girls between the ages of 10-19 however boys are on the rise of self-mutilation.
Object Impact – banging and punching objects to cause bruising and bleeding – mostly seen in boys.
Self-Impact – banging or punching self to cause bruising and bleeding – again, mostly seen in boys.
Carving words or symbols into the skin – it is not the same as cutting; more of a lasting effect (like tattooing) to be reminded of what they are feeling emotionally or symbolizing that emotion.
Hair pulling – a compulsive desire to pull out hair.
Burning – burning skin using cigarettes, lighters, curling iron, etc…
Healing interference – habitual touching, peeling, pulling, adding foreign substance, etc … to wound so that healing will not be complete.
Scratching or Pinching – using objects or fingers to cause bruising, bleeding and ripped skin
Eating Foreign Objects – paper, glue, play dough, cotton balls, etc…
So the question is asked to a self-harmer on why they self-harm. For some, they do not know how they started or why they do it. For many, it has involved stress, anxiety, and depression. For others, it is a coping skill learned when life got out of control. For them, this is something that they can control in their mind.
Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders, broken families, PTSD, sexual abuse and incest are more prone to self-harm than others.
So parents ask, “What are the signs of self-harm?”
It is very difficult to catch a self-harmer. They can hide it easily or explain it away to some other excuse such as an accidental injury. My daughter had often used the excuse of scratches from our cat. However, the differences in a cat scratch and a human self-inflicted scratch are different. Here are a few other warning signs.
1. Covering of the body.
2. Unexplained reasons for bruising and cuts
3. Numerous amounts of scarring, burning, cuts within a period of time
4. Broken bones too often
5. Finding sharp objects in the room such as knives, razorblades, pins, tweezers
6. Wearing jewelry such as leather wide wrist straps around ankles and wrists
7. Involved in Subcultures such as Emo where it is accepted (note: not all Emo’s self-harm but it is more prevalent among this subculture than others)
Often difficult to understand can be a parent’s worst nightmare as well as not knowing the root of why it started. If you feel that you do have a teen that is self-harming, do not panic and do not belittle the teen for self-harming.
Parents can often feel blame or shame when they discover their pre-teen or teenager suffering with a self-injury disorder. It is more important to get help for your teen than to try to comprehend why they do it or get angry at them for doing it.
You can share your concerns of safety as well as letting them know that you will be getting them help. However, do not try to diagnose them or counsel them on your own. They will most likely shut down on you or self-injure more to cope after being exposed.
First point of action is to get a counselor/therapist who deals with self-harm/self-injury. Let the professionals guide you in how to be a support to your teen while getting help and moving forward in the healing process. Like all issues of addictions/disorders, time is the only answer along with a good support team and seeking God’s help and counsel in your time of need.
It is highly encouraged for you as the parent(s) involved to also get counsel. It is a family issue, not just a teen issue. The more the family is involved, the more the healing can take place.
As a parent of a teen who was once a self-harmer, it took a year before things really changed. With new coping skills in place, my teen is a more confident person in learning how to get through difficult times and problems knowing that self-harm is not the answer.
Remember more than anything, love them. Love them exactly where they are at – self-harming and all.
My daughter said that one of the reasons why she stopped self-harming was because she saw how broken-hearted and concerned I was and yet I kept telling her over and over how much I loved her despite my disappointment.
They need to know that they have a safety net to go to. The only way they will communicate how they feel is when they know they won’t be condemned or judged. Remember, self-injury is just a symptom of something deeper going on.