Last week, the introductory post of this series on adolescent self-harming behaviour, provided a brief introduction into the some of the commonly held beliefs around self harm. Some facts around self harm were shared and so were some beliefs that are untrue, unhelpful and downright misrepresentative of harming and those who harm.
What many parents grapple with when finding out their teen is deliberately hurting themselves, is the loud question of WHY?
Why is my child cutting or burning themselves? What has led to this? …. Why? Why? Why?
Of course there is no one-size-fits-all definitive answer. The reasons driving an adolescent to self-harm are as unique and individual as the teen in question.
Professionals in this field commonly believe that those who self harm do so as a form of escape. The sensation of pain from a self-inflicted wound masks another pain (usually, but not always, emotional) and to the harmer this is preferable. Any feeling of relief is short lived though as the adrenalin and heightened sensory response is temporary and of course – very importantly – the problem or issue is not addressed or resolved.
The cycle often continues. Pain, harm, relief, let-down, pain, harm, relief, let-down ….. and repeat.
Quite often the harmer knows (in that little rational bit of the developing adolescent brain) self-harming is not the ideal solution. But they feel (now, that’s a much bigger bit of the developing adolescent brain) it’s actually about all they can do as they may perceive a lack of other solutions or resources available to them.
It’s believed that young people who self-harm are not attempting to take their own life, or to cause harm to others. Their behaviour is a response to dealing with an overwhelming and intense pain. There have been some potential triggers for self-harm identified, but of course any teenager experiencing these are not immediate candidates for self-harm …. and likewise, those who self-harm may not have experienced any of the following:
- relationship difficulties or disputes (with parents/family or peers)
- problems at school or at work
- personal relationship difficulties (with boyfriend or girlfriend)
- depression, anxiety or low self-esteem
- substance use or abuse
Whatever the prevailing reason, self harming adolescents require understanding, support and assistance to modify their behaviour. Although it’s known some teens self harm as a once-off, isolated behaviour, Australian statistics (as presented by the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) point to more than 50% of teens who self-harm as being likely to repeat the behaviour. Repetitive and on-going self-harm is said by some young people to be an almost ‘addictive’ behaviour and the pattern of relying upon hurt as a coping mechanism becomes routine for them.
The good news is that with intervention and support, young people who self-harm can be assisted to break the pattern. And in next week’s post, I’ll share some strategies and suggestions to support parents who may be dealing with this issue.
Please note this post is not intended in any way to replace professional medical or psychological advice. Please seek appropriate and timely support whenever necessary.
Support information: Parentline 1300 30 1300; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800