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The Self-Harming Teen

self-harming, cutting, teens

Reasons for Self-Harm

Non Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI, or self-harm) is direct and deliberate destruction of one’s own body tissue in the absence of intent to die.  It is when an individual does one or more of the following to their body:

  1. Cutting

  2. Burning

  3. Carving words or symbols

  4. Breaking bones

  5. Hitting/punching objects

  6. Piercing with sharps

  7. Head banging

  8. Biting

There are many biological and circumstantial reasons for NSSI. Biological reasons include:

  1. Genetic predisposition for a transitory period (puberty to early adulthood)

  2. Altered physiological reactivity (amygdala, pituitary and adrenal axis & serotonin dopamine and opioid systems)

  3. Low cholesterol and fatty acids (Lipids)

  4. Insufficient biological stress response

Circumstantial (Life) experiences include:

  1. Maladaptive unhealthy attempt to regulate emotions.

  2. Motivated to stop intense negative emotions. For example: anger, guilt, shame, deep sadness, hurt or fear of abandonment.

  3. Motivated to change a sense of emotional numbness or non-being.

Self-harm, also referred to as cutting, often functions as an expression of pain.  It can also be a release of tension, which creates a calming feeling.  A lot of times an adolescent will participate in self-harm behaviors in order to feel physical pain in the place of the emotional pain they are experiencing.

Signs of Self-Harm

Recognizing the risks and behaviors associated with self-harm can be helpful for a parent or guardian. Knowing the signs can help you be proactive in reducing the chance of serious injury.  If you are concerned your adolescent might be self-harming be on the lookout for:

  1. Frequent “accidents”

  2. Great amounts of alone time

  3. Pervasive relationship problems

  4. Persistent identity questioning

  5. Behavioral and emotional instability

  6. Impulsivity and unpredictability

  7. Statements of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness

Treatment for Self-Harm

There are few treatments designed specifically for cutting.  If you suspect your adolescent might be partaking in self-harm activities, there is hope!  Many treatment modalities offered by trained counselors can assist your adolescent in alleviating the core problem causing the harmful behavior.

Some of these treatments include:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

  3. Mindfulness Based Therapies

  4. Problem Solving Therapy

  5. Family Therapy

There are not one-size fits all answers to eliminating self-harm behavior.  If you have an adolescent in your life that is struggling with cutting, or if you yourself are wrestling with this issue, we are here to help!  Please feel free to email or contact us at 281-421-8714.   We are here to support you and your family!


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