Self-Harm / Self-Injury
We get it. Self-harm is a solution, not the problem.
Let’s find out the problem--and try some different solutions.
Cutting, scratching, burning, hitting, and pinching are some of the ways people hurt themselves. Though self-harm can be the reason for coming to therapy, it is more often that it is considered a symptom--not the problem itself. But make no mistake, self-harm is a VERY big deal. There is a 37-50 times greater risk that a person who self-harmed will attempt suicide within the next year. Regardless of whether the it was “superficial” or severe, self-harm should never be ignored, dismissed, or minimized.
The reason for the rise in self-harm (particularly in teenage girls) over the last several years is unclear. A study in the UK found that self harm among girls aged 13 to 16 rose by 68% in a three year span. It has been suggested that the increase in self-harm can be attributed to a corresponding growth in social media and internet use, rising school stressors, busy schedules, and a growing number of websites which glorify self-harm. Regardless of the global contributors, each individual has their own personal reasons for choosing self-harm as a way to cope.
Similar to addiction, the more someone self-harms, the more difficult it is to stop. That’s why it is so important for caregivers of minors to make it clear that self-harm is not permitted. Drinking, drug use, and self-harm may be “self-medicating,” but they do not have to be accepted without consequence. Caregivers have the power to control the environment to minimize temptation by removing harmful items, performing “body checks,” and even monitoring a kid 24-7, creating a sort of “in-home residential” program. Remember, self-harm is a big deal, and preventing this dangerous habit from forming is the best way to protect kids from a lifetime of struggle.
For adults, if stopping self-harm is the goal, the solution is to find the actual problem and replace the old solution (self-harm) with new solutions (skills). Those who self-harm do so for a variety of reasons and it is impossible to know “why” someone self-harmed just by speculating. Sometimes there is one reason, sometimes there are multiple. Frequently, a person may think it is one reason, only to find that once they were asked the right questions, they discovered other things that contribute. To conclude that someone self-harmed “just for attention” is short-sighted. Working with a therapist who asks specific and matter-of-fact questions to help tease apart the different pieces of the puzzle is essential. But the bottom line is, for adults, being willing to take self-harm “off the table” as a coping response is key.