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Self-injury (self-harm)

Self injury is a common negative coping skill that tends to show in younger populations. This coping skill can manifest itself in numerous ways some of which being:

  • Spending an unreasonable amount of money despite being unable to afford it

  • Cutting (most commonly)

  • Burning

  • Scraping 

  • Hair pulling

The most common places for cutting are places that are easily covered up such as:

  • Forearms

  • Hips/Thighs

  • Shoulders 

Look for: 

  • Wearing Clothing inappropriate for the weather

  • Wearing rubber bands 

  • Wearing lots of bracelets 

  • Fixation on knives/ picking at skin

  • Scars/ random bruises

  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises or other wounds

  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn

  • Wearing rubber bands, red welts

  • Making excuses to avoid swimming, rolling up sleeves etc. 

  • Keeping sharp objects on hand

  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather

  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships

  • Persistent questions about personal identity, such as "Who am I?" "What am I doing here?"

  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability

  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Self-injury Stereotypes

When someone is self-harming, it is typically assumed that Suicidal ideation immediately follows. This stereotype is incorrect on a number of levels. Self harm can be an indicator however of other mental illness such as:

  • antisocial personality disorder

  • dissociative identity disorder

  • Borderline Personality Disorder

  • post traumatic stress disorder

  • anorexia/ bulimia nervosa

  •  Bipolar depression

  • Major Depressive Disorder 

  • Autism

  • Alcohol abuse


Additional, and common stereotypes include: 

  • Being dramatic

  • attention seeking

  • Only for girls

  • Emo/ Goth

  • Long sleeves

  • Bracelets


While there is some truth to every stereotype, these stereotypes can be deeply harmful to a self-injuring individual. It is important to recognize even IF the self-injury is in an effort to receive attention, it is clear that something is lacking in that individuals life. To write the issue off as simply being dramatic and attention seeking is to invalidate the underlying emotions and promote secrecy.

Who is at risk?

Anybody can be at risk for self-injurious behavior (as discussed earlier certain mental health challenges are at an increased likelihood) However, certain populations are at higher risk. These being:

  • Adolescents 

  • Teenage girls

Of course, teen boys can self-harm too although it is less common. The teens gender DOES NOT discredit their challenges.

WHY do people self harm

To put it simply, because for them it works for them as a coping skill. Self-harm release's chemicals in the brain that can make the pain temporarily cease and provide an outlet. The chemicals at work include:

  • Endorphins (Numbing)

  • Serotonin (calming

  • Dopamine (Pleasure)


Self harm offers a temporary relief and reduces negative emotions

the Internal pain distracts from physical pain, which makes it easier to cause injury to ones body intentionally.  People who self-harm are also usually drawn to the scars/ mutilation OR they may also fear it and loathe themselves for their scars. Both these mentalities contribute to the addiction that is self-harm.

HOW to stop self-harming

As a parent, it is painful to watch a child self harm.  While the initial desire may be to take away the razors/self-harming object, this is actually promoting secrecy. Instead try:

  • Expressing how hard it is for you to see your child hurting themselves

  • Asking them their thought process for hurting themselves

  • Collaborating with them to find new coping skills

  • Encouraging therapy 

  • DO NOT punish a teen for self harming, this will only push your teen further away and will put a greater gap between you and your child


In order to stop self-harming, the individual has to want it for themselves. If you are self-harming and you are ready to take the first step try these techniques

  • Use ice instead of knives

    • If needed use red-dye with the ice. ​

  • Draw on your arm instead, write names of people you love

  • Start therapy 

  • Make a "Reasons" list

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