is the act of deliberately destroying body tissue, at times to
change a way of feeling. Self-injury is seen differently by groups
and cultures within society. This appears to have become more
popular lately, especially in adolescents. The causes and severity
of self-injury can vary.
Some forms may include:
* picking, and pulling skin and hair
* head banging
* excessive body piercing
Some adolescents may
self-mutilate to take risks, rebel, reject their parents' values,
state their individuality or merely be accepted. Others, however,
may injure themselves out of desperation or anger to seek attention,
to show their hopelessness and worthlessness, or because they
have suicidal thoughts.
These children may suffer from serious psychiatric problems such
Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar
Disorder. Additionally, some adolescents who engage in self-injury
may develop Borderline Personality Disorder as adults. Some young
children may resort to self-injurious acts from time to time but
often grow out of it. Children with mental
retardation and/or autism
may also show these behaviors which may persist into adulthood.
Children who have been abused or abandoned may self-mutilate.
Why do adolescents self-injure?
Adolescents who have difficulty
talking about their feelings may show their emotional tension,
physical discomfort, pain and low self-esteem with self-injurious
behaviors. Although they may feel like the "steam" in
the "pressure cooker" has been released following the
act of hurting themselves, teenagers may instead feel hurt, anger,
fear and hate. The effects of peer pressure and contagion can
also influence adolescents to injure themselves. Even though fads
come and go, most of the wounds on the adolescents' skin will
be permanent. Occasionally, teenagers may hide their scars, burns
and bruises due to feeling embarrassed, rejected or criticized
about their deformities.
What can parents and teenagers do about self-injury?
Parents are encouraged to talk with
their children about respecting and valuing their bodies. Parents
should also serve as role models for their teenagers by not engaging
in acts of self-harm. Some helpful ways for adolescents to avoid
hurting themselves include learning to:
* accept reality and find ways to make the present moment more
* identify feelings and talk them out rather than acting on them.
* distract themselves from feelings of self-harm (for example,
counting to ten, waiting 15 minutes, saying "NO!" or
"STOP!," practicing breathing exercises, journaling,
drawing, thinking about positive images, using ice and rubber
* stop, think, and evaluate the pros and cons of self-injury.
* soothe themselves in a positive, non-injurious, way.
* practice positive stress management.
* develop better social skills.
Evaluation by a mental health professional
may assist in identifying and treating the underlying causes of
self-injury. Feelings of wanting to die or kill themselves are
reasons for adolescents to seek professional care immediately.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist can also diagnose and treat
the serious psychiatric disorders that may accompany self-injurious
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