Part and parcel of being a teenager means facing the world in a rapidly changing body, with rapidly changing ideas in your head, rapidly changing friends by your side and rapidly changing ambitions on the horizon. All of these changes can add up to an exhilarating ride when everything works smoothly, but they can also deteriorate into frustration, anxiety and even fear when they do not. To deal with these emotions, some teenagers turn to self harming.
What Is Self Harming?"Self harming" is an umbrella term for a variety of behaviours that do in fact inflict harm upon oneself. Things like abusing drugs and alcohol, developing an eating disorder, engaging in unprotected sex and putting yourself in an unnecessarily risky situation (such as through drink driving) can all be considered as self harming activities. More often, however, "self harming" is used to describe actions that literally hurt the body, such as cutting or burning the skin or swallowing dangerous foreign objects.
Why Do Some People Self Harm?Those who self harm often do so because they are better at dealing with physical pain than emotional pain. Often they are unable to cope with overwhelming emotions such as sadness, loneliness, fear, grief or guilt, yet hurting themselves makes them feel better for a short while. For others, self harming is a way of punishing their body for something they are distressed about, for example if they have been abused and are ashamed of this. Self harming can also be a cry for help.
What Kind of Help Is Available for Those Who Self Harm?The most efficient way to get help for someone who is self harming is to have them see their GP. Scolding someone who self harms, or simply taking away the materials they use to harm themselves, will not address the underlying issues of why they engage in this behaviour. A GP will be able to carry out a physical examination in order to make sure that they have not harmed themselves irreparably, or that they do not have any injuries that must be addressed immediately. A GP will also be able to talk through the emotions that catalyse episodes and the actions used in self harming, and will be able to make appropriate referrals to other specialists.
How Is Self Harming Treated?Though self harming manifests itself in a physical way, underneath it is really a mental and emotional condition. Only by treating the emotions that cause the self harming episodes can the condition be rectified. Often it is suggested that those who self harm:
- Begin therapy with a trained counsellor.
- Engage in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to break old habits and learn to react differently to their thoughts and emotions.
- Keep a journal and let out their emotions in words.
- Use creative writing to express and explore themselves.
- Use exercise and sports as a means to physically express themselves.
- Talk with family and friends as a way of working things out.