I have not personally dealt with a lot of self-harm with my children. I have one child that self-harmed but for only a short time because she was very afraid of pain. For her, the self-harm was triggered by being put on an anti-depressant (she is bipolar so this triggered severe mood swings) but continued even after the anti-depressants were out of her system.
"Luckily," the types of self-harm she chose were digging her fingernails into her arms and erasing (rubbing skin with an eraser to the point that it rubs off the epidermis leaving it raw). Neither action left a mark longer than a couple of days.
Cutting and Self-Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Cutting. It's a practice that is foreign, frightening, to parents. It is not a suicide attempt, though it may look and seem that way. Cutting is a form of self-injury -- the person is literally making small cuts on his or her body, usually the arms and legs. It's difficult for many people to understand. But for kids, cutting helps them control their emotional pain, psychologists say.
This practice has long existed in secrecy. Cuts can be easily hidden under long sleeves. But in recent years, movies and TV shows have drawn attention to it -- prompting greater numbers of teens and tweens (ages 9 to 14) to try it.
Karen Conterio, author of the book, Bodily Harm. Twenty years ago, Conterio founded a treatment program for self-injurers called SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives at Linden Oak Hospital in Naperville, Ill., outside of Chicago.
Her patients are getting younger and younger, Conterio tells WebMD. "Self-harm typically starts at about age 14. But in recent years we've been seeing kids as young as 11 or 12. As more and more kids become aware of it, more kids are trying it." She's also treated plenty of 30-year-olds, Conterio adds. "People keep doing it for years and years, and don't really know how to quit."
"The problem is particularly common among girls. But boys do it, too. It is an accepted part of the 'Goth' culture," says Wendy Lader, Ph.D., clinical director for SAFE Alternatives. "Self-injury is definitely a coping strategy for unhappy kids."
Very often, kids who self-harm have an eating disorder. "They may have a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse," Lader adds. "Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what's going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control."
Self-injury can also be a symptom for psychiatric problems like borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, she says.
Yet many kids who self-injure are simply "regular kids" going through the adolescent struggle for self-identity, Lader adds. They're experimenting. "I hate to call it a phase, because I don't want to minimize it. It's kind of like kids who start using drugs, doing dangerous things."
"Yet self-harm is different from taking drugs," Conterio explains. "Anybody can take drugs and feel good. With self-injury, if it works for you, that's an indication that an underlying issue needs be dealt with -- possibly significant psychiatric issues. If you're a healthy person, you might try it, but you won't continue."
Self-harm may start with the breakup of a relationship, as an impulsive reaction. It may start simply out of curiosity. For many kids, it's the result of a repressive home environment, where negative emotions are swept under the carpet, where feelings aren't discussed. "A lot of families give the message that you don't express sadness," says Conterio.
It's a myth that this behavior is simply an attention-getter, adds Lader. "There's a [painkiller] effect that these kids get from self-harm. When they are in emotional pain, they literally won't feel that pain as much when they do this to themselves."
About 8-10% of all people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) commit suicide. This does not include those who engage in risky behavior that results in death.
Suicide (and other impulsive, dysfunctional behaviors) are seen as solutions to overwhelming, uncontrollable emotional pain. Self-injury is a coping mechanism that may release chemicals that lead to a general feeling of well-being. There are many reasons for self-injury, and it may be done intentionally or unconsciously (unaware and in a haze). An intellectual understanding of why they do it doesn't make it any easier to stop. There is a misperception that all people with BPD harm themselves or are suicidal. Many high functioning people with BPD do not, but those that do, however, may seek professional help more often than those who don't. ~Stop Walking on Eggshells