Should you talk to your kids about self-harm?
Short answer: YES!
When it comes to talking to kids about self-harm, parents sometimes worry that bringing up the subject will put the idea in their child’s head. The truth is, though, your child is going to hear about self-harm at school, through their peers, and on social media. But, if you are the one talking about the topic, you can debunk any myths, make sure your kids have the facts, and establish that they can talk to you about anything.
Nonsuicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of harming your own body on purpose, such as by cutting or burning yourself. It’s usually not meant as a suicide attempt. This type of self-injury is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, sadness, anger and stress.
While self-injury may bring a brief sense of calm and a release of physical and emotional tension, it’s usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions. Life-threatening injuries are usually not intended, but it’s possible that more-serious and even fatal self-harm could happen. Getting the proper treatment can help you learn healthier ways to cope.
Symptoms of self-injury may include:
- Scars, often in patterns.
- Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds.
- Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn.
- Keeping sharp objects or other items used for self-injury on hand.
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants to hide self-injury, even in hot weather.
- Frequent reports of accidental injury.
- Difficulties in relationships with others.
- Behaviors and emotions that change quickly and are impulsive, intense, and unexpected.
- Talk of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness.
Self-injury mostly happens in private. Usually, it’s done in a controlled manner or the same way each time, which often leaves a pattern on the skin. Examples of self-harm include:
- Cutting, scratching or stabbing with a sharp object, one of the most common methods.
- Burning with lit matches, cigarettes or heated, sharp objects such as knives.
- Carving words or symbols on the skin.
- Self-hitting, punching, biting or head banging.
- Piercing the skin with sharp objects.
- Inserting objects under the skin.
Most frequently, the arms, legs, chest and belly are the targets of self-injury. But any area of the body may be a target, sometimes using more than one method.
Becoming upset can trigger urges to self-injure. Many people self-injure only a few times and then stop. But for others, self-injury can become a longer term, repeated behavior.
There’s no one single or simple cause that leads someone to self-injure. In general, self-injury may result from:
- Poor coping skills. Nonsuicidal self-injury is usually the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with stress and emotional pain.
- Difficulty managing emotions. Having a hard time controlling, expressing or understanding emotions may lead to self-injury. The mix of emotions that triggers self-injury is complex. For example, there may be feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, panic, anger, guilt, rejection and self-hatred. Being bullied or having questions about sexual identity may be part of the mix of emotions.
Self-injury may be an attempt to:
- Manage or reduce severe distress or anxiety and provide a sense of relief.
- Provide a distraction from painful emotions through physical pain.
- Feel a sense of control over the body, feelings or life situations.
- Feel something — anything — even if it’s physical pain, when feeling emotionally empty.
- Express internal feelings in an external way.
- Communicate feelings of stress or depression to the outside world.
- Punish oneself.
Self-injury is a presenting problem many therapists treat. Therapists are equipped to help manage this concern and provide healing through counseling and support. Psychotherapy can help you:
- Identify and manage underlying issues that trigger self-injury.
- Learn skills to better manage distress.
- Learn better ways to manage intense emotions.
- Learn how to boost your self-image.
- Develop skills to improve your relationships and social skills.
- Develop healthy problem-solving skills.
If you or someone you love struggles with self-injury, seek support with a therapist today!