In the Internet space, delicate topics of the relationship of children and adolescents with their bodies are increasingly being touched upon. Selfharm is one of those topics. Often parents are lost when faced with such a problem in their family. The phenomenon of self-harm, like any other acute social phenomenon, is overgrown with myths and conjectures. Let’s figure out what to do and how to react if this phenomenon burst into the lives of your children?

What it is?

Self-harm or self-injurious behavior is the intentional infliction of injury and damage to oneself by a person. People of all age categories resort to such behavior, from primary school to old age.

As a rule, self-harm is the first reaction to any stressful stimulus, which is commonly called a “trigger” (word, event, action, emotion).

Varieties of selfharm
Many people think that self-harm involves only cuts — on the arms, legs, stomach. In fact, self-harm can be of a completely different nature (some are even hard to think of in terms of self-harm!), They just talk about them less.

What types of self-harm can be attributed to self-harm:

  • cutting, scratching, piercing, pinching the skin;
  • biting oneself (including biting the inside of the cheeks, biting the lips);
  • onychophagia (the habit of biting nails and the skin around them);
  • dermatillomania (combing wounds, squeezing pimples);
  • trichotillomania (pulling out hair on the head and body);
  • hitting hard objects or solid objects (for example, walls);
  • burns (cigarettes, candles, hot metal);
  • intentional overeating and starvation;
  • Excessive exercise to harm yourself.

Many experts also distinguish the so-called emotional self-harm. If the usual self-harm affects, first of all, our body, causing pain or emotions on the physical level, then the emotional self-harm is aimed at inflicting moral injuries on ourselves. For example, emotional self-harm can include the desire to enter into a relationship with someone you don’t want to, deliberately deny yourself meeting your loved ones, bringing a person to negative emotions so that he shouts and thereby “punishes” — in a word, it’s all the same self-harm.

What is the reason?

Many parents who encounter self-harm in their children for the first time ask the same question: why is this happening? What is my child missing? Why is he doing this?

There can be many reasons. The first thing to be aware of is that self-injurious behavior always has a function. As a rule, adolescents self-mutilate as an emotional self-regulation that allows them to “switch” moral pain to physical pain.

Here are the most common causes of self-injurious behavior:

  • stress;
  • depression and apathy;
  • high anxiety;
  • shame (for one’s actions, behavior, words, etc.);
  • suicidal thoughts;
  • low self-esteem;
  • guilt;
  • traumatic memories;
  • fears, phobias.

It happens that teenagers do not feel connected with their own body. In this case, self-harm is a way to feel real, real.

Moms and dads need to keep in mind that selfharm is a phenomenon with its own characteristics. In addition to the obsession with harming themselves, adolescents fall into the so-called «selfharm trap». What it is?

When one or another trigger acts on a person (that is, a reason that encourages self-mutilation), his emotions grow to such an extent that it is impossible to do without self-harm.

As soon as a teenager hurts himself, there is temporary relief and inner satisfaction (due to the release of endorphins). After a short period of calm, the state of discomfort increases again, and it can also be accompanied by a feeling of disgust for your body (those same cuts, damaged wounds or bald patches). The trap of self-harm is precisely in this — in the cyclicity and repetition of episodes of self-harm. Because of the short-term relief when trying to harm oneself, a person, as it were, gets hooked on this way of helping himself.

Common myths

one. Selfharm — incomplete suicide. No, if only because some types of self-harm do not lead to lethal consequences. Even if we talk about intentional hunger or cuts with blades, then the first desire of a person in this case is not to commit suicide, but only to punish himself, remove negative emotions and switch from moral feelings to physical pain.

In addition, Thomas Joyner, an American specialist in suicidal behavior, states that people who practice self-harm for a long time decrease their susceptibility to pain and the fear of death gradually disappears. It turns out that self-harm for them is most often not associated with a desire to leave this world. But the motives of self-harm in adolescents, of course, may differ.

2. Selfharm is a teen problem. It is believed that only teenagers engage in self-harm, because this age period seems to be the most critical. But both children and the elderly are engaged in self-harm!

Some suffer from this all their adult lives and are ashamed, not knowing that it is quite common. Another thing is that the teenage audience engaged in self-mutilation is the largest. According to statistics, about 38% of children in puberty have engaged in self-harm at least once in their lives.

3. Selfharm is just cuts. No. As mentioned above, many manifestations can be attributed to selfharm. And intentional burns, and hair-pulling, and hunger strikes.

four. Selfharm is a disease. Selfharm can hardly be called a disease, but a symptom is quite. Intentional self-harm can be indicative of a variety of mental illnesses (eg, OCD, depression, eating disorder, post-traumatic or bipolar disorder).

5. Only women suffer from selfharm. No, self-harm is practiced by both sexes. Perhaps this myth came from the well-established gender stereotype about «severe men who never cry, are always emotionally stable and therefore do not go to psychotherapists.»

6. Selfharm is manipulation. Due to the stigmatization of mental disorders, there is a myth that teenagers injure only to attract attention. However, this is not the case: when it comes to self-harm, experts do not divide self-harmful behavior into “real” and “demonstrative”.

What to do and how to react: a memo to parents

If parents suspect that their children are self-harming, it is very important to draw up a specific work plan. It is work, because getting rid of the desire to injure oneself is a painstaking joint work of parents and children, requiring regularity and awareness.

Moms and dads should follow some rules to support the child and develop his skills in other ways to cope with strong emotions.

End of criticism. Swearing, remarks, devaluation, instilling feelings of guilt and shame definitely do not motivate a person to stop “mocking himself”, but drive him even more into the very cyclical trap that was mentioned above.

Parents should eradicate the following phrases from their vocabulary: “Don’t make it up, all the problems are only in your head”, “You will outgrow”, “Better do something useful so that there is no time left for foolishness”, “You need to look at things more positively”, “ Just pull yourself together and stop”, “You make up problems for yourself, we didn’t suffer like that at your age.”

Useful phrases. On the contrary, here are some phrases that are very helpful for parents to establish contact with a child suffering from self-injurious behavior and increase the level of trust: “I am always there if you need help”, “I may not fully understand your feelings, but you not alone, I’m always ready to listen to you”, “Let’s cope with difficulties and strong emotions together. What do you think about going to a psychologist?”, “I care about you and your health, so I want to better understand your condition and what help you need”, “You are not bad, even if you have a breakdown. I love you no matter what happens in your life.»

Emotional switch. Try to come up with a plan of action with your child. For example, if he feels that a new episode of self-harm is just around the corner (in his state, emotions, etc.), then offer him an alternative to switch thoughts. Do you feel like you’re about to break? We need to find ways to take care of ourselves. Maybe it will be a conversation with a friend, a call to a helpline, an energetic exercise, painting a picture by numbers or a contrast shower. Some teenagers use a piece of ice or a felt-tip pen instead of picking up a blade. This technique helps to remove physical injuries, but mimics the old way of coping with difficulties. You can do this if you understand that other methods do not help at all.

Support Locations. A teenager should know that self-harming behavior is not something to be ashamed of. He should always have a place to turn to for support. It doesn’t have to be mom and dad. Perhaps he is best helped by communication in thematic groups with peers or a specific specialist. Help your child find a good psychologist, and if necessary, consult a psychotherapist.

Emergency help. Do not forget about emergency assistance. It happens that a self-harm episode lasts a very long time and is almost uncontrollable. Here it is important to always keep the contacts of helplines, ambulance or crisis specialists at hand.

Control Skills and Techniques. Self-harm — this is clearly not the problem that is solved by ignoring. Together with the child, it is necessary to come up with several techniques that help him in times of crisis.

For example, someone controls their emotional state with the help of an emotion calendar, noting fluctuations in their state during the day. Others prefer to replace stress or anxiety with creativity. Third, psychotherapists recommend drawing on the body at times when you want to injure yourself.

The study of self-harm is a relatively new area in psychology and psychotherapy. This concept appeared at the turn of 1990-2000, so many more discoveries await humanity. However, both scientists and medical experts unanimously declare that self-harm is an attempt by a person to cope with negative emotions and a method of punishing himself (auto-aggression). In a sense, this is a silent cry for help — to those who are nearby, who are ready to tactfully support and find professionals.

The main line of parental behavior should be acceptance, support, non-judgment and maintaining a trusting relationship with a teenager.

If signs of self-damaging behavior are found in a child, first of all, his condition should be clarified with specialists. They will help the teenager develop individual self-regulation skills and, if necessary, rule out (or confirm) the presence of other disorders, such as depression. The main thing to remember is that the fight against self-harm should be a team (teenager + parents) and systematic.


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