Self-injury is the act of deliberately harming your own body that is not intended to be lethal. Self-injury is also known as cutting, self-harm or self-mutilation. It is a harmful way to cope with overwhelming emotional pain or intense anger and frustration.
People who self-injure commonly report feeling empty inside and unable to express their feelings. Often, their intention is to “punish” themselves. Becoming upset can trigger an urge to self-injure.
Many people self-injure only a few times and then stop. But for others, self-injury can become a long-term, repetitive behavior.
Signs and symptoms
Self-injury can be difficult to identify because it is often done privately. Any area of the body may be used for self-injury. The most frequent targets of self-injury are the arms, legs and front of the torso. The signs and symptoms vary depending upon the methods a person uses and may include:
- Scars from burns or cuts
- Fresh scratches or cuts
- Broken bones
- Patches of missing hair
People who self-injure may attempt to conceal their marks with clothing. They may wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, even on hot days. People who self-injure often brush off injuries with excuses as to how an “accident” happened or as the result of being clumsy.
Treatment and recovery
People who self-injure are able to recover from this behavior and lead normal, productive and self-injury free lives. Self-injury treatment is most often a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), supplemented by other treatment services as needed.
If you are concerned about yourself, a friend or family member, help is available. Your primary care provider can often refer you to a mental health professional that specializes in self-harm help. The CBA provider network includes psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers and counselors. (You should always check your specific benefits to see which providers your plan covers.)
Talking to Teens About Self-Injury
Finding out that a child is self-injuring can be scary and confusing. If you think that your child is self-injuring, ask them about it gently. If the answer is yes, it's important not to get mad or overreact. You don't want to make your child feel bad for doing it. Keep in mind that cutting is often a symptom of a larger problem and you can help your child figure out the underlying cause by seeking professional help.
Understanding Teen Self-Injury
While some teens who self-injure may have a friend who does it or may have seen it on TV, most kids who start cutting say that they were not influenced by anyone or anything else and came up with the idea themselves. Contrary to what some adults believe, self-injury is rarely a bid for attention. Most of kids who self-injure are ashamed of what they do and do their best to hide it.