Called the Â“new age anorexia,Â” the practice of self-abuse or mutilating behavior is on the rise. It is estimated that one out of every 200 teen girls between the ages of 13 and 19 regularly practice self-abusive behavior with a reported 2 million cases in the US alone. But why? Why do these teens hurt themselves? To them, itÂ’s sacred, itÂ’s a secret and itÂ’s theirÂ’s.
There are several types of self-abusive and mutilating behaviors. They include cutting, burning, wound interference and picking. Cutting is just as it sounds. The teen will use a razor blade, knife, broken mirror or a piece of glass Â– what ever they can Â– and Â“cutÂ” their skin allowing it to bleed openly for several minutes. Burning is the practice of placing cigarettes, hot metal, lighters, or lit matches to the skin and causing a burn. The practice of wound interference is done by creating a wound, whether it is a cut, burn, bruise, or bump, and preventing it from healing by tearing, picking or pushing on the wound. Picking is done when a self-mutilator literally Â“picksÂ” at their skin until a wound is created and bleeds.
Those that practice these self-abusive behaviors do so in an attempt to Â“release stress, pain, fear or anxiety.Â” Generally practiced by teen girls Â– but affects at least 11 thousand boys a year as well Â– the teen may feel out of control regarding their life and practice these behaviors in an attempt to regain that control. Some teens state that it Â“feels good to be in charge of your own pain when so many others try to do it for you.Â”
The teens that self-abuse are not the ones who get numerous tattoos or piercings; it is very difficult to identify a person who practices self-abusive behaviors out of a high school full of teens. These teens are generally good students, have normal or above normal appearances, are involved in school and after-school activities and have parents who are involved in the community. Most come from above average income levels and both parents may work outside the home. However, as they want to keep their secret, these teens will not usually participate in activities that require changing clothes at school Â– or will change in secret when no one is around Â– and may not have many close friends. Self-abusive teens tend to internalize any conflicts with friends, school or parents as they do not want to Â“cause troubleÂ” for anyone. As a result, the fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, sadness, isolation, frustration and emotional pain inside builds to a point where the teen feels they will Â“explode.Â” To prevent this explosion Â– and to deal with the emotions they are feeling Â– they cut, or burn, or pick in an attempt to Â“bleed them out.Â” This to them is a release and a coping mechanism; itÂ’s how they deal with life and all it offers.
Signs and symptoms of self-abusive or mutilating behavior includes the presence of fresh, healing and/or scars from old injuries, a knife, lighter or matches in purse or book bag with no logically explanation for itÂ’s being there, making excuses for injuries, wanting to do own laundry, locking self in bathroom for long periods of time with water running and the presence of a new injury upon leaving bathroom, blood or burn stains in the inside of clothing as well as becoming overly defensive when approached about the possibility of self-abusive behavior.
There is hope. Several organizations deal with self-abusive and mutilating behavior in an attempt to help those who harm themselves learn better coping mechanisms. Organizations such as Â“DonÂ’t Cut,Â” Â“Self-Injury,Â” and Â“Self Abuse Stops NowÂ” have both websites and 800 numbers where teens can get information and help. Treatment for these types of behaviors may include individual and family therapy as well as medications to lessen the anxiety and depression the teen may be feeling.