Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TEEN TRENDS - SELF-MUTILATION/SELF-INJURY

(This blog is written to inform parents & others of the disturbing trends of teenagers.).

Self-mutilation, also known as self-harm, self-injury, and cutting, has become an unhealthy coping mechanism used by teenagers to relieve pain rather than to cause pain. The act of self-mutilation is deliberate, repetitive harming of the body that has become a widespread epidemic. Even though self-mutilation is more prevalent in young females, it is estimated that two million people in the US harm themselves. They can be male or female, rich or poor. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and high school dropouts. Their ages range from 11 to 60 years of age.

WHY DOES A PERSON SELF-MUTILATE?
  • First, you must understand that self-mutilation is NOT a suicide attempt.
  • A person may self-mutilate to relieve mental pain, anger, fears, hurt, grief. extreme anxiety or tension.
  • To end the feeling of numbness and to feel alive.
  • Most cutters have a self-hate mindset. They see themselves as worthless, fat, ugly or stupid.
  • Then there’s the “contagion factor” where teenagers hear about it from their friends. Teenagers also use online message boards to share and receive advice, and there are hundreds of web sites available on this topic.
SELF-MUTILATION TAKES ON MANY FORMS:
  • Inflicting cuts with any type of sharp object.
  • Constant scratching that draws blood.
  • Picking at scabs so wounds can’t heal.
  • Burning the skin on a regular basis with erasers and cigarettes.
  • Pulling out hair, including eyelashes.
  • Breaking bones or bruising the body.
SELF-MUTILATION CAN BE VERY HARD TO DETECT.
WARNING SIGNS TO WATCH FOR:
  • Someone who self-mutilates is very private and spends a lot of time alone. They do not harm themselves in front of others.
  • They are often hesitant to change clothes in front of other people.
  • They wear long sleeves and long pants at all times to hide their scars.
  • They have unexplained injuries, such as cuts, scratches, burns, and bruises.
  • You can also expect mood changes.
  • There is usually underlying depression.
WHAT DOES SELF-MUTILATION LOOK LIKE?
  • Look for small, thin cuts in straight, parallel lines – almost like a cat scratch.
  • Cuts are usually not deep enough to require stitches. They are very superficial.
  • Sometimes they will cut words into themselves that describe how they are feeling at that moment (fat, stupid, etc.).
  • Areas of the body that are usually harmed, include the arms, legs, inner thighs, under the breast, and bottom of the feet.
Over time, the cutting can worsen, occurring more often, with more cuts. It’s similar to a drug addict, after awhile it takes more cutting to get relief.

Because some self-mutilation pictures can be very graphic, I added a link instead of actual pictures, but please remember, SOME OF THESE PICTURES ARE VERY DISTURBING. (Click pictures once on the web page)
http://www.psyke.org/articles/en/selfmutilation

There are quite a few myths about self-mutilation; one being “people use self-mutilation just to get attention”. This is not the case. People who self-mutilate go to great lengths to hide their scars. Most consider self-mutilation a shameful secret.
MY STORYI became familiar with self-mutilation when my daughter, Hollie, started cutting at the age of 13. She used cutting as a release for all the pain she had experienced in the past (see my post on Emotional Abuse). When I first noticed cuts on Hollie's arms, she said the cat scratched her. I thought that was odd, but I didn't know any different. Then I noticed more cuts on her legs, and when she said the cat scratched her, I knew something was up. After a long talk, she admitted cutting herself. This was all very new to me.  This is what I learned:
  • Hollie would use broken glass or broken mirrors to cut herself with.
  • She would break open disposable razors or pencil sharpeners to get to the blade.
  • If there were no other sharp objects around, she would break one of her CD’s.
Although Hollie didn’t cut herself on a daily basis, it became a daily routine for me to make sure there wasn’t anything in the house she could cut herself with. I threw out all sharp objects. I would no longer allow pencil sharpeners, disposable razors, compact mirrors or scissors to be brought into the house. I threw out all the sharp knives except one, which I kept hidden (even though knives are rarely used in cutting). I would do a weekly search of her room. (She knew I did this. I would never sneak around.) This would be a long process, because the razors are small, and she would hide them in the pockets of her clothes, in her shoes, cuts in her mattress; something as small as a razor can be hidden almost anywhere. I don’t remember exactly how many years Hollie was a cutter. I did put her in rehab, but medication and therapy didn’t seem to work for her. It took a lot of prayers and a very committed youth minister, who let her call him at anytime, day or night, to finally pull her out of this darkness. Now she wants to be a youth minister, so she can help other teenagers who are in this situation.

Even though there is no specific medication to treat self-mutilation, antidepressants are often prescribed, along with intense outpatient/inpatient treatment with a qualified therapist who specializes in self-mutilation, and new coping skills need to be learned. In the end, just like any addict, they have to want to stop before they can get better, and they will not “outgrow it”. It is not “just a phase”. It is an illness.


I have been told that "once a cutter, always a cutter". I think what this means is the "urge" to cut is always there. Even though it has been over two years since Hollie has cut herself, I still keep the sharp objects out of the house. And when I notice that she is stressed or upset, I try to talk her through it to help her fight that "urge" that she says she does still have.
This behavior can be very disturbing and difficult to understand, but as parents you should not let your discomfort cause you to issue ultimatums or punish self-harming behavior, and don't act out in anger. There is help and hope for your teen, but it will take a lot of patience and understanding on the part of the parent.



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62 comments:

satakieli said...

Stopping by from SITS.

This is a great post, thank you.

I'm a recovered self-harmer, I started at age 9 and continued until age 18 before anyone noticed. I was recently (at 24 years old) diagnosed with OCD, something I feel must have played a part in my behaviour back then. I don't self harm anymore like that but I am a chronic skin picker. I too did not have any luck with therapists as a teenager, but now I am older I'm seeing a behavioural therapist.

Now that I'm a mom, I am terrified of the prospect of my son following in those footsteps. But at least I know what to look out for when he is older.

On a similar note, now that I'm a mom myself I feel so awful about what I must have put my mother through when she found out.

Thank you again for this post, all the best to you and your daughter.

confessionsofacountrygirl said...

In high school I had a friend that went through this very thing. So was NOT a good time in any of our lives.

La Belle Mere UK said...

Wow this is so sad. I'm sorry your daughter suffered.

LBM xx

cat said...

As a teenager I practiced something similar, although not cutting, but scratching.

Greetings from South Africa.

Yaya said...

This does seem to be becoming "popular"....

MaryAnna said...

My niece was a cutter. Thank you for another great post.

Elizabeth said...

Stopping by from SITS today. I'm glad you were able to find help for your daughter that seems to be working for her. I don't have any teenagers yet, but have friends who do, and I will definitely be passing this on to them.

Amy said...

Stopping by from SITS.

With more than a decade since I started self-injuring, I can definitely say the urge has never gone away, even though, within the past few years, I seem to have aged out of the act.

Glad your daughter was able to pull away from all the hurting. Thank you for sharing her/your story so that others can be better informed.

Christine said...

I can't imagine the helplessness a parent feels when their child is cutting themselves. We do so much to keep them safe and it never crosses our minds that we need to protect them from themselves.
Your story is very personal and I want to thank you for sharing and showing others that it does happen to real people, not just something you hear/read about.

Mary-Jane said...

I am so glad that your daughter has been able to stop self harming. Thankyou for sharing.

Joy said...

Yet another important PSA. Thanks for getting this out there.

And congrats on your SITS day.

Pam said...

I had no idea that cutting was more than a "phase". I thought it was something that was outgrown. Thanks for educating all of us. Your blog serves such an important purpose. Thank you!

A Fist Full of Dandelions said...

So sorry to hear you had to live though this with one of your kids. Thanks for sharing.

Jane In The Jungle said...

Great information!
Stopped by from SITS.

lauren said...

thanks for the personal story...

Disney said...

How sad. Our teens have so much to deal with emotionally these days.

Le Gourou de Sandwich said...

Thank goodness raising chidren isn't scary or anything. Whew! The human psyche is so fragile. I watch Supernanny all the time and shake my head in wonderment at how difficult it is. Thanks, Keri

The818 said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Kimmy C said...

I too had (and still do have) friends that are cutters. Thank you for spreading the word about this illness, I know many of my friends parents didn't understand and didn't help the way their children needed.

Tater Tot Mom said...

Stopping in from SITS.

Another great post and thank you for sharing a story that I'm sure was painful to write.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Kerri said...

Another terrific, informative post. Great job, Mom!!
Stopping in from SITS,
Kerri
www.sickofmg.blogspot.com
Blogging for Invisible Illness Awareness Week Sept 14-20

Kris said...

I actually witnessed this about a month ago...horrible. A teenager that came up and showed his wrist to a group of adults and said "See?" Happy SITS day.

Chandice said...

Its sad what kids are doing :(

Rbarakat said...

I hate this, I've delt woth tees that continue to struggle in this area I wish there was an easy answer. I'm glad your dd is doing well now.

Lamonica Epps said...

Very informative blog post. Congratulations on being a featured blogger.

Stopping by from SITS

http://fabulousgccandles.blogspot.com/

SPEAKING FROM THE CRIB said...

stopping by from SITS - you are very brave to share your story with us. wishing you and your daughter the best of luck.

Meg said...

I was a cutter when I was a teen. The "once a cutter, always a cutter" saying is true for me. I don't do it, but sometimes when I'm really upset the thought crosses my mind, which bothers me. It's so hard, because it really does become addictive.

I'm Anitra! said...

Stopping by from SITS. Thanks for telling your story. I'm glad your daughter is better and will pray for her continued success!

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

Thanks for sharing all these important posts. Have you, or will you be writing one on bullying?

Stefanie Zucker said...

Thank you for sharing this. My sister was a cutter for a number of years, and there was a time once in my life when I was in a deep depression that I finally understood her. I never went there but I came close. Its hard to understand the pain that would drive someone to this, but you did a wonderful job. Thanks so much for your post.

shortmama said...

Im so glad that your daughter was able to get through this.

Over Thirty Mommy said...

Thank you for sharing, you have very informative posts.

Stopping by from SITS, Happy SITS day

Mighty M said...

Thanks again for sharing all of these, I hope you have a great SITS day!

Hoity Toity Baby said...

stopping by from sits.

thank you for all the piceless information! I hope at least one parent found your information helpful!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Congratulations on your SITS Feature. You have done a great job about getting some important info. out there!

Ali said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story. It's scary that it starts so young. I begin cutting when my husband and I were going through a difficult time in our marriage and after heated arguments I would use a pin to scratch my legs. It centralized the pain I was feeling and made it more physical (easy to see and fix) than emotional.

Krissy @ B.Inspired, Mama! said...

I'm sorry that you had to go through this as a mother, yet you seem to be the right mom to do it. You're so inspiring!

Tranquility said...

Oh my goodness - another scary story... and you and your daughter have had to live through this?!
I'm so sorry!
I just can't imagine!

SimplyValorie said...

Stopping by from SITS -- I've known so many people who deal with this issue. I don't know how it is from a mom's perspective, but I know from a friend's that it's terrifying. All the best to you and your daughter. I'll be praying that she continues to fight the urge. I dealt with anorexia myself and I know what cutters mean when they say 'once a cutter, always a cutter;' it's the same with anorexia. There's always that urge, that thought that if I just skip one more meal, things will be okay.

Zeemaid said...

It's so hard to believe that kids do these things to themselves to this extent. Hard to believe and so incredibly sad that it does happen.

Thank you for sharing yours and Hollie's story. I think it really helps.

Michelle (hometc) said...

Sorry that your family has been through so much. My teen years weren't exactly easy either. I had no desire to harm myself but did so through thinking nothing bad could ever happen even if we were drinking and driving. I ended up paralyzed after breaking my neck.

Mama Mair said...

Teenage years are such a difficult time. This is why my husband is planning to retire early so that he can be home for our two children during these growing pains.
Enjoy your day at SITS!

Single Mama NYC said...

You are so amazing for putting this information out there for the rest of us Moms. Thank you!

Alexis! said...

Saw you on SITS, your self mutilation link in the left margin really sparked my interest.

I am extremely knowledgeable on this subject; self mutilation. It seems that the reason your daughter still has urges to cut is because she's an addict of self mutilation, which is possible, it's just very unspoken of because a lot of people either A. don't know this is really an addiction, or B. are in denial of it having the power of becoming an addiction. There is a difference between having cut (or any form of self mutilation- there are many) before for a period of time, and being an addict. The just having cut for a period of time goes away after time, and was typically done by people seeking attention, or doing it for a "release" without really getting one literally.

For me I knew self mutilation became an addiction when I wanted to hurt myself even when I wasn't upset. Of course "triggers" make me want to much more intensely, if I could without consequence I would be cutting myself right now instead of typing this to you. Just like a physical drug, self mutilation releases endogenous opiates within the brain, that gets the mutilator "high"-just like a physical drug-which can get addicting alone. (Why, like a drug addict, I want to do so even when not upset or angered by something.)

I plan on devoting my entire life to helping people like your daughter, whether she's truly an addict of self mutilation or not. Within my plans are creating anonymous-style meetings for self mutilators, writing books on self mutilation addiction awareness/help, etc, and I'd be more than thrilled to speak to you more about this personally if you're interested. My email address is xoalexis@vzw.blackberry.net, I look forward to hearing from you and congratulations on being featured on SITS!

Anonymous said...

I've just been reading your blog for the past hour. And let me tell you, I'm in total fear of sending my son to highschool.

I am learning alot and will be talking with him on many if not all of these topics.

He's only 9 but pulls some questionable antics with kids in school. He's definately ready for some important discussions.

Thanks for the encouragement your blog has given me to do the right thing by him. And get talking.

Donna

Days of Whine & Noses said...

Great blog!

Stopping by from SITS!

Little Miss Baker said...

You have such great posts that are sure to be helpful to many many people. You go girl!

La Jolla Mom said...

Hi! Stopping by from SITS. A very, very informative post. Thanks.

Karen & Gerard Zemek said...

Glad to hear your daughter has stopped cutting and hope she will continue to win over those urges. Glad that youth pastor was able to help her! Great post. I'm going to share this with a couple I know who has a teen who was cutting--don't kow if she still is or not.
Happy SITS day!

Kristen said...

I am so glad she found her way out of that. I always thought cutting was a way to express emotional pain. It is difficult to understand emotions as a child...physical pain is tangible.

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Coop said...

this is a really great post.

Viagra Online Without Prescription said...

I had a girlfriend who had serious problems at home, so she had this tendency to hurt and cut herself as a way to "forget" the other psychological pain. That was very hard for me to deal.

The Crimson Beloved said...

My oldest daughter has just gone through her third month of not hurting herself. She says she wants to earn our trust again but I'm still in the un-trusting stage and I don't see coming out of it very soon. It's exhausting trying to stay ahead of her and protecting her, I couldn't imagine what it is like for parents who don't have the Lord to lean on. There are days He just carries me.

ABrokenDisaster said...

this blog really informed me.. i stopped cutting 209 days ago,yes i count. it was the most emotional thing i've ever been through. well i'm 15, so I guess thats why. but the odd thing? i'm not the little emo quiet girl in the corner (no offense). I was a cheerleader, dating the cutest boy in our grade, and had the best friends ever. i had issues at home, and im not emotionally stable. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently. I'm glad i stopped cutting, but it was too late. I lost my 3 bestfriends (one that i'd had since 2nd grade) and my boyfriend, who ive had an attachment to since kindergarden...

anyone who's still reading? check out my blog..i get pretty personal considering no one that i know knows about it.
http://abrokendisaster.blogspot.com/

ToWriteLoveOnHerArms

ciara said...

i haven't mentioned it in my blog, but my daughter has done this. i'm trying to respect the fact that she does not want people to know. she would hide the cuts, but if they accidentally showed, friends would ask her about it. they would tell her to please not do it. i don't think they understood that it went way much deeper and that even a friend who cared enough to stay stop usually doesn't make them. sad part is, her friends do it, too. she has one friend who does it more and worse, probably due to her home life, i can't really say. my daughter is slowly getting better, she hasn't cut in quite awhile, and i'm hoping she won't again. some people who cut say they're addicted to it. i just wish that some of her friends would ask for help or that their parents would open their eyes (cos unfortunately, most just act like it's not happening...like the friend with the not so good home life).

thanks for sharing this post.

Jayme said...

Thank you so much for this post, and the others about what you are going through with your kids and what you've been through. While my three oldest don't live with me at this point, I still need to know this stuff and this post in particular hits home.

misssrobin said...

I self-harmed a little off and on through my life. But in my mid-thirties it hit full force. I scratched and burned. It took lots of therapy and drastic life changes to make it better.

It is extremely addictive due to the chemical release from your body at the time. When my life gets tough the temptation is often there. But I have done well for the last couple of years.

This is an important post. Especially your personal story. I would suggest adding a trigger warning at the beginning. If someone is a self-abuser and isn't emotionally safe, this post could increase the desire to harm themselves. That's just how it works.

Anonymous said...

My son is 9 years old and he has self harmed, my son is servely dyslexic and still continues, sometimes picking at his skin brusing to the skin punching the walls , we have the surpport but fined it so hard to deal with, knowing that your child is hurting them self's. Xxxx

Jamie said...

I looked at the pics of self-harming and I just cried. I have suffered from depression since a child and the emotional pain is still very real fro me at age 41. But I have never thougth to cut my self. The pain the people must have is so tremendous and my heart goes out to them. My 15 year old daughter has been a cutter since 12 years old. And when I found out I did what every parent probably does I freaked out. Not the right choice but I was naive and unknowledgeable on self-harming. Your article and the link to the website has been the best tool for me and once again I thank you!!! Things are better for my daughter now, just recently got on meds and in therapy. I pray that she finds here way in this life and can learn to cope.

Flipdwoa said...

Sorry that your family has been through so much. My teen years weren't exactly easy either. I had no desire to harm myself but did so through thinking nothing bad could ever happen even if we were drinking and driving. I ended up paralyzed after breaking my neck.

BlxxdyButterfly said...

I am a curently a self-harmer. I started in 5th grade but i barely do it now because i changed how i thought.

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