Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Understanding Why Teens Self-Harm Or "Cut"

There are those in the world who suffer from an impulsive need to cut themselves. This is not a suicide attempt. This behavior is a form of coping. The Mayo Clinic describes this behavior as repetitive and impulsive, where something upsetting triggers the action, though self harm can also be planned, controlled and methodical. This behavior is the way this individual has learned to deal with the stress in their life. Self harm also includes picking at scabs or interfering with healing wounds, hitting oneself, burning, hair pulling, and other forms of self harm. It is a compulsive disorder. Cutters feel compelled to self mutilate with a sense as though there are no other options. People who self harm are in sensory overload, and can't deal with the amount of pain they feel inside so they have reached a state of empathy and numbness and they need to cut to feel anything. The cutting leads to endorphins being released as a natural pain killer in the body and these endorphins can cause addiction over time.

According to there are 2 million people in the United States who are self injurers. The typical person who injures themselves is, according to the MHA of NC, from an upper middle class family, average to high intelligence, but low self esteem. 50% were sexually or physically abused, and as high as 90%were forbidden to express emotions like anger or sadness. Those who hurt themselves may abuse drugs, or alcohol, or also have an eating disorder.

There is also a growing belief that women and men may both be equally guilty of hurting themselves, but males explain the injury as the result of some believable life event and thus hide their problem. The reasons why one hurts oneself are the same. Low self esteem, empathy, numbness, stress, and to cope one cuts and the sensation is addicting. The one distinction between the sexes is that females will often say they hurt themselves out of a need for self punishment. Males have a greater chance of killing themselves due to the method of self harm they chose. Both have a chance of taking the injuries too far. They need help, not rejection. Also there is some peer pressure involved with self harm. One person doing it may pressure others to as well.

Treatment for cutting must be tailored to the individual. If one suffers from depression, some medication may help to increase serotonin levels (natural pain killer) to reduce self harm. Psychotherapy or talk therapy can help with the underlying issues as well as teaching how to cope with stress and boost self esteem. Often the underlying problem is having strong emotions that are capped and blocked and they need to be released in a healthy fashion. Let the person open up about self-injury. Let them know those around them care. Encourage the individual to express their emotions, including anger. Do enjoyable activities together. Don't make judgments and don't tell the cutter to stop, because these actions would cause the cutter to feel worthless or powerless. A cutter to cope with the self injurious behavior needs to recognize the problem themselves, and realize it is not an indication they are a bad person. Get professional help, someone to trust. Find out what triggers the behavior and realize it is a means to ease stress and find other means to achieve this end that don't involve self injury. Avoid web sites that seem to glamorize self harm. There is a way to take back control.

Chy King, M.Ed. is the owner of The Sober Sources Network and has extended her network on alcoholism, addiction and mental health recovery for both adults and teens. You may view one of the live forums at The Sober Village to see recovery in action. Visit for teen support or visit our portfolio of resources at

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