Teens Cutting and Self Injury by Sue Scheff – Parents Universal Resource Experts, Inc.

Self Injury and Cutting

Self abuse (or self mutilation) can come in many forms; most commonly it is associated with cutting, hair pulling or bone breaking, but it can also manifest itself as eating disorders like bulimia, and/or anorexia. This site will focus mainly on cutting, which is the most common form of self abuse, with 72% of all self injurers choosing to do so by cutting themselves, and hair pulling. Cutting is exactly as it sounds; when your teen cuts him or herself as a physical expression to feel emotional pain. There are many reasons why teens injure themselves, but many people assume it’s just ‘for attention’. Often this can be an element of why your teen may be abusing him or her self, but just as often it can be something your teen does privately to express the emotional pain they feel inside. And while self injury is a taboo subject, it is estimated that 3 to 6 million Americans self injure themselves in some way, and that number is on the increase- in fact, its already doubled in the past three years.

Why Teens Self Injure

According to experts, one of the most common reasons teens self injure is because the injury is in some way a “release” from emotional anxiety. The pain of the injury provides a distraction from the emotional pain the teen is feeling, and acts almost as a drug to them. It can also help the injured feel ‘human’ again, by putting them in touch with a common human experience: pain.

Another reason teens may self injure is for the attention they get from the physical manifestation of their injuries. For example, some teens may cut because they get attention from the blood and scars obtained from cutting. Teens that cut for attention may feel neglected in some way, and usually do not care if they receive negative or positive attention from cutting.

Statistics have shown time and time again that the “average” cutter (and in fact, self injurer) is most commonly female. According to [Dr. Charles Goodstein of the New York University School of Medicine, cutting regularly occurs in one in every 200 adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 19. Typically, young women begin cutting in their teens following some sort of physical and/or sexual abuse (most commonly sexual abuse). Statistically, the average female cutter was raised with at least one alcoholic parent in the home. Cutters are also typically of middle to upper middle class backgrounds and usually well educated, though this is not always the case. Experts suggest women may be more prone to cutting or self injury because (as opposed to young men) they are not taught to repress their emotions, so keeping any traumatic ‘secret’ becomes extremely difficult for them. Cutting is then used as an outlet for that anxiety; the bleeding is metaphorically releasing the painful secrets the cutter has been holding on to, without requiring the cutter to tell anyone anything.

Unfortunately, studies have also shown that women who self injure are less likely than men to be taken seriously when and if they do seek help for their disorder. Despite its tendency to appear in young women, it is important to remember that cutting affects both men and women, and can appear in any age group, socio-economic group or education level.

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