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Teens, Cutting, and Self-Injury

Stress and Self-Injury continued...

Just as everyone experiences stress in unique ways, everyone deals with stress in different ways. These ways of lessening bad feelings are called "coping mechanisms." There are healthy coping mechanisms, like:

  • Exercising.
  • Playing the piano or drums.
  • Meditating or praying.
  • Talking with someone you trust.

There are also unhealthy coping mechanisms, like:

Psychologists have found that self-injury can rapidly get rid of tension and other bad feelings. But, like drugs and alcohol, self-injury provides only a quick fix. Besides the physical consequences, one danger of self-injury is that the habit can last into adulthood. That's why it's crucial that teens learn safe, healthy, effective coping strategies so they can deal with anxiety and stress appropriately into adulthood.

Are Body Piercing and Tattooing Forms of Self-Injury?

Not necessarily.

Imagine a boy about 13 years old who accepts a friend's challenge to play "bloody knuckles" (punching each others fists until they bleed). Then consider a girl around 15, who lies about her age at a booth in the mall and gets her eyebrow pierced. Or perhaps you've known a teen couple who got matching tattoos with each other's names.

The thing that distinguishes self-injury from other forms of physical harm is the elevated mood a teen experiences after self-injury. So the above examples -- although potentially dangerous in their own right -- are typically not acts of self-injury.

Is Self-Injury a Sign of Mental Illness?

It's important to understand that a teen who is a self-injurer is not mentally ill. Self-injury is not merely a way to get attention. Even though the self-injurer may not feel the pain while inflicting the wound, he or she will feel pain afterward.

Thus, such injuries should not be brushed aside as mere manipulation, nor should the teen be made fun of for being different. Self-injury should be taken seriously by friends and family. Trust and compassion can make a world of difference.

Is Self-injury Like Suicide?

People who self-injure to get rid of bad feelings are not necessarily suicidal. Self-injury is almost the opposite. Instead of wanting to end their lives, those who inflict physical harm to themselves are desperate to find a way to get through the day without feeling horrible.

Though the two concepts are different, self-injury should not be brushed aside as a small problem. The very nature of self-injury is physical damage to one's body. It's important for the self-injurer to seek help at once.

Can You Prevent Self-Injury?

A person may not be able to stop injuring themselves "cold turkey." But seeing a counselor or joining a support group will likely help to ease the frequency and severity of self-injury. Intense negative feelings may cause a person to feel isolated from the rest of the world, so a social support system is important to fight self-injury.

There are effective treatment strategies for those who self-injure. The forms and causes of self-injury are unique to each individual. A psychologist or counselor will be able to tailor a treatment strategy to each person.

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