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Types of Self-Harm

Self-harm is sometimes used as a way to cope with difficult feelings. Some types of self-harm are easy to spot, while others can be hidden until the problem becomes bigger and impossible to hide anymore. If you believe your loved one is intentionally hurting themselves, know treatment is available for them. In this article, you can find all the information about the different forms of self-harming, including the signs to look for within each type and when and how to seek professional treatment.

Causes of Self-Harm

Before getting into the proper risk factors that can lead someone to self-harming behavior, it is important to understand what self-harm is and why people engage in such behavior to provoke self-injury and pain.

Is Self-Harm a Mental Illness?

We can describe self-harm as when someone causes self-injury. Intentionally harming themselves is a way of expressing emotional distress rather than a mental illness that has a diagnosis. But, it can be linked to mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder or depression.

Although it’s not considered a medical condition by itself, it still requires professional treatment as underlying issues might lead individuals to choose this dangerous way of coping with their emotions and negative feelings.

Why Do People Self-harm?

People self-harm for different reasons. Usually, individuals use self-mutilation to cope with negative feelings, but there are other motives, such as:

  • Trying to feel in control
  • A way to feel something
  • Trying to distract themselves from painful emotions through physical pain
  • To deal with low self-esteem or self-hatred
  • A way to express emotions, mainly negative ones
  • A way to deal with emotional pain
  • A need to punish themselves
  • Relieving unbearable tension
  • A response to intrusive thoughts
  • A cry for help

Young adults are most likely to self-harm – usually, self-harm starts in the pre-teen or early teen years, when emotional changes happen fast, often, and unexpectedly. During this time, teens also face increasing peer pressure, emotional problems, and loneliness and may have conflicts with parents, teachers, and even friends.

Risk Factors of Self-Harm

As mentioned, some teens self-harm as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional distress.

Some risk factors lead young people to experience difficult emotions, such as:

  • Mental Health Conditions – it is not uncommon for young people who suffer from a mental illness, such as depression, to use self-harm as a tool to deal with symptoms from these mental disorders
  • Trauma – experiencing traumatic events can have an extremely negative impact on one’s feelings, especially on children and teenagers, and can lead to finding negative ways to deal with painful emotions, including self-harming behavior
  • Family Problems – a teen’s relationship with their parents and other family members in their childhood can lead them to develop self-harm behavior. This is especially true when the teen has suffered neglect and abuse
  • Being Abused or Bullied – those who suffer physical or emotional abuse either while growing up or more recently are at higher risk of developing self-harm behavior. The same applies to children and teens who suffer bullying from their peers

Different Forms of Self Harm

Many types of self-harm are used to deal with personal distress and emotional pain. It can be hard for close family members to realize their loved one is self-harming. However, prolonged self-injury behavior can be spotted through different signs.

Different types of self-harm have different warning signs:

Physical Self-Injury

Self-mutilation is the most well-known form of self-harm. Self-injury to the skin or physical self-harm includes any act that could harm. These behaviors often cause physical pain. It can result in permanent scars and can represent a severe risk to one’s health.

These can include:

  • Cutting or carving words or symbols into the skin
  • Burning
  • Skin hitting
  • Skin punching
  • Pulling hair
  • Inserting objects into the body
  • Breaking your bones
  • Biting your own body
  • Head banging
  • Self-strangulation using ligatures

Signs to look for:

  • Unexplained cuts or other wounds
  • Wearing inappropriate clothes for the weather, such as long sleeves or long pants during hot weather
  • Burns without a proper justification, either from candles or matches or cigarette burns
  • Avoiding activities that expose the body, such as swimming
  • Washing certain clothes separately because they could contain blood stains
  • Hiding sharp objects, such as a razor blade, knife, or any other sharp object to cut the skin or hiding lighters or matches

Self-Destructive and Risky Behavior

Any unhealthy or destructive behavior can be more emotional self-harm. These are especially hard to identify as they are not physical. It can include procrastinating, pushing away loved ones such as a family member, or even changing oneself to please others. Many of these are done out of fear, self-punishment, or to feel like they have control over a situation.

Another type of self-harm is risky behavior. In this type of self-harm, a teenager performs, on purpose, certain behaviors that they know could lead to dangerous outcomes. When the negative effects of a certain behavior outweigh any potential benefits, it can be considered as self-harm.

These can be:

  • Misusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Unsafe sex
  • Not taking their prescribed medication

Risky Eating Habits

Adopting unhealthy eating habits is another form of self-harm teenagers can develop. These unhealthy eating habits usually have symptoms of eating disorders, such as anorexia, where they starve themselves on purpose, bulimia, or binge eating.

Due to such self-harming behaviors, they can develop a diagnosed eating disorder that, if left untreated, becomes a serious threat to life. This type of self-harm is often used as a way of self-punishment or to feel a sense of control.

Signs to look for:

  • Unusual weight loss or weight gain
  • Skipping meals
  • Secrecy around eating habits
  • Lying about food and eating

Common Signs of Self Harm

Aside from the specific signs to look for in each type of self-harm, there are common signs that can be applied to every form of self-injury. These are:

  • Signs of low self-esteem
  • Signs of depression, including low mood, crying for no reason, and a lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Expressing feelings of not being good enough or feeling like a failure
  • Withdrawal from social and family activities
  • Blaming themselves for any problems

Self-Harm and Suicide

Teenagers who engage in self-harm are at higher risk of attempting suicide if they don’t get the help they need. Someone who intentionally damages their health might not have the goal to commit suicide. It could be that they believe the only way to deal with their feelings is to self-injure. However, prolonged self-harming behavior can intensify the symptoms of an underlying issue, making an individual consider a suicide attempt. Also, the self-harm act can worsen over time, leading to severe injury and even death.

How Do I Help a Teenager Who Is Self-Harming?

If you believe your teen self-harms, the first thing you can do is offer them support.

Understandably, you might feel helpless as a parent, and keeping calm during a confrontation is hard. However, it’s important to remember that your child is going through painful emotions, and what they feel inside is worse than their scars. In addition, many people who self-harm have interpersonal difficulties. Therefore, they need all your help and support, not your judgment.

Similarly, it is hard for many people, especially close ones, to understand the possible reasons behind such dangerous behaviors. But remember, self-injury is your child’s way to cope with a bigger problem than they can deal with.

Someone who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism can seriously hurt themselves and provoke long-term negative consequences to their health and well-being. Seeking professional help when your teen suffers from self-harming behavior is essential to avoid life-threatening consequences and to treat the underlying issues behind this behavior.

Treatment for Self-Harming Behavior

If your child suffers from self-harm, it’s important to remind them to talk to a trusted adult, school counselor, or mental health professional. But, ultimately, for a long-lasting and successful recovery, your teen needs proper treatment – common treatment options that a doctor can advise for self-harm can be:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – also known as “talking therapy”, this type of treatment helps your teen cope with their triggers by providing healthy ways to deal with their negative thoughts and emotions
  • Medication – in cases in which self-harm is a consequence of a mental illness, like depression, a doctor can prescribe antidepressants to treat the mental disorder and, consequently, its symptoms and effects

Professional help will ultimately help your teen deal with their feelings in healthier ways that won’t put their health and body at risk. In addition, it will provide them with the necessary skill set and tools to overcome any future problems on their own.

Clearfork Academy

Clearfork Academy is a leading treatment provider that serves teenagers, both girls and boys, between the ages of 13 to 17. We offer substance use treatments and help adolescents with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

For your teenager, we provide faith-based programs in a therapeutic environment, including:

  • On-site medical detox
  • Residential treatment
  • Intensive Outpatient care
  • 24/7 staff and nursing support
  • Experienced team of medical doctors
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Family intensive week
  • Excellent substance abuse treatment

We lead adolescents to a new legacy – if you believe your teen could benefit from our help, please contact us today at (844) 387-8780 to find out more about treatment options.

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