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Cutting to Cope: Understanding the Emotional Desperation behind Self-Harm

In This Episode:

  • Self-harm can be used as a desperate attempt to relieve some physiological and psychological tension.
  • Self-injurious behaviors include: cutting, carving, scratching, branding, marking, burning, scraping, biting, bruising, hitting, and other ways of hurting oneself.
  • Self-harming behaviors can increase the risk of suicide because of the emotional problems that trigger self-harming behaviors, but it doesn’t meant that the person is suicidal.  Seek professional help is you or your child is engaging in self harming behavior.
  • Self-harm is more common with teens, than any other age group in the life span.  It has become an “epidemic” in some populations.
  • Finding out that your child is harming themselves can feel frightening, mysterious, and confusing.
  • Self-injury is sometimes used as a desperate attempt to diminish tough emotions, to achieve proof of “alive-ness”, or relieve emotional pain.
  • Sometimes, when kids hear that someone in their peer group “cuts”, they may see self-injurious behavior as a choice for them as well.
  • It’s important to put healthy coping skills in place. Mindfulness techniques can be really helpful.
  • Self-harm creates a distorted relationship with one’s own body, as the person inflicting the harm, is also the person being harmed.
  • It’s important to identify what’s going on for the client and address any underlying issues that are triggering the self-harming behaviors.
  • As parents, we need to remember what feels stressful is for our child / teen may not seem stressful for us.  Using empathy is so important.  Empathy is a wonderful and beneficial skill for parents to have.  It not only gives us insight, but connects us with our kids in a way that they know that we understand.
  • Empathy can strengthen parent/child relationships.
  • It’s so important to seek out professional help if you notice signs of self-harm with your child/adolescent.
  • Some teens that self-injure are often attempting to deal with overwhelming stress and difficult emotions such as loneliness, hopelessness, anger, isolation, and persistent thoughts.  Self-injury is really a maladaptive coping tool.
  • The effects of self-injury can feel absolutely devastating. Unfortunately, self-injury can become somewhat addictive in nature.  Sometimes teens go back to “cutting” to relieve emotional pain when the emotional disturbance feels heavy again if healthy coping skills aren’t integrated into their life. Addressing the tough emotions can decrease the desperate, determined search for relief from the emotional pain.
  • Providing an emotionally safe environment for children to learn and experience healthier, more effective coping skills to use when the difficult emotions overwhelm is important.
  • Keeping teens safe and emotionally stable is at the core of support, but it really goes far beyond that – to help them feel PEACE, JOY, and HOPE in their life again is important.
  • If you or someone that you love self-injures, there is HOPE.  This can feel scary for everyone involved.  Support is vital. I know first-hand that support can help. Therapy may help.

(Some of These Resources Are Affiliate Links)

Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut and Self Injure
Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life


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