Individuals, especially adolescents and young adults, turn to self-harm when they lack the skills to cope with their emotional distress. The self-harm brings temporary relief from the emotional pain or distress they are experiencing in their lives. Self-harm, which can take the form of cutting, burns, removing bodily hairs, or other forms of mutilation, is a dangerous way to cope with daily stress and mental illness. The self-harming behavior can also have an addictive quality due to the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a pleasurable sensation. People may either “come alive” or “numb out” when participating in self-harm behavior. Whatever the reasons, self-harming behavior is complex.
When individuals feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry, they may turn to self-harming behaviors. Signs of self-harm 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 on hand
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- Frequent reports of accidental injury
- Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
- Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness
Family therapy, individual therapy and groups can help improve emotional dysregulation, helping to stop the self-harming behaviors. With time, healthy coping strategies will replace self-harming.