Adolescent Self-Harm

Adolescents who participate in self-harm often find relief from the emotional pain or distress they are experiencing in their lives.  Teenage lives are complicated.  Between school, family, friends, extracurricular activities, and relationships, it is easy for teenagers to become quickly overwhelmed.  Self-harm, which can take the form of cutting, burns, removing bodily hairs, or other forms of mutilation, may help teenagers cope with the stresses they are exposed to daily.  The self-harming behavior can also have an addictive quality due to the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a pleasurable sensation.  Teenagers  may either “come alive” or “numb out” when participating in self-harm behavior.  Whatever the reasons, self-harming behavior is complex.

Reasons why adolescents self-harm include feeling invalidated by their family or friends, feeling numb inside, experiencing high levels of stress, body image issues, or wanting to fit in with a particular peer group.  Signs of self-harm include:

  • Burn or cut marks on arms, legs, or body
  • Bruising, hitting, or unsual marking
  • Locking themselves away in bedroom or bathroom for extended periods of time
  • Removing bodily hairs or picking at body
  • Finding razors, knives, or other cutting tools
  • Finding tools encrusted in blood

Family therapy, individual therapy and groups can help adolescents stop self-harming behaviors.  With time, healthy coping strategies will replace self-harming.