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Why Is My Teen Cutting? Understanding Self-Mutilation and the Reasons Behind It

Imagine looking over at your teen child and noticing angry red lines across his or her arms. For a moment, you feel confused. Then, you feel a sense of panic as you realize that your child has been cutting. In your state of panic and confusion, you grab hold of your child’s arms and demand to know what is going on.

Rather than realize your concern, your child feels attacked and retreats to the bedroom to be alone. Your head is suddenly a whirlwind of questions. “Why?” “What have I done wrong?” “How did I not see this sooner?”

If you have are in a situation that involves teen cutting and self-mutilation, you are not alone. Many parents go through the same situation with their teenager. Understanding what self-mutilation is and the reasons behind allows you and your child to work together to put a stop to it.

Reasons for Self-Mutilation

First, it is important to realize that self-mutilation is not necessarily a sign of suicidal tendencies. In fact, many teens cut themselves as a way of coping with different emotions, or as a way of feeling a sense of relief. The intention is not to try to end their own life. However, cutting is still a concerning behavior as it could be a sign of mental health issues.

Teen cutting and self-mutilation typically occurs for the following reasons:

  • Coping – When a person lacks proper coping skills, they use self-mutilation as a form of providing relief so they can cope with their range of emotions
  • Internal factors – Stress and anxiety can lead to self-mutilation behaviors
  • Environmental factors – If the teen feels surrounded by environmental elements that cause stress or trauma, they are more likely to turn to self-mutilation
  • Mental illnesses – When a teen suffers from mental illnesses, they are at a higher risk of self-mutilation, which includes eating disorders, sleep disorders, addiction disorders, personality disorders, and depression
  • Energizing – Some people who self-harm report that it helps them feel better because they gain a rush of energy from the act
  • Self-criticizing – People who self-harm are often their own worst critic, and because they have a poor self-image, they self-punish
  • Feeling – At times, a person may feel numb, and so they use cutting as a way of reminding themselves they are still alive

Understanding the reasons your teen turns to cutting can help you pinpoint the proper solution.

How to Stop Your Teen From Cutting

The first step you need to take to address teen cutting and self-mutilation is to recognize that you are not to blame. If you turn inward with self-blame, you are not going to have enough focus to help your child. Instead, put your focus solely on your child’s needs. Other ways to stop the behavior is to:

  • React calmly – Although the discovery of self-mutilation can be quite alarming, an overreaction can cause your child to shut down. Instead, approach the situation with a calm sense of understanding and support
  • Be supportive – Your child needs to know you love and care and only want what’s best. Be supportive of your child along the way, particularly when seeking help for the behavior.
  • Ask questions – Be proactive and ask your child open-ended questions that must be answered in detail rather than with a simple yes or no. The goal is to get your child to talk to you.
  • Listen – Let your child talk and explain what is going on and the reasons for the self-mutilation. The only way to provide the proper solution is to understand exactly what has driving your child to this point.
  • Encourage – Encourage your child to make changes and go with you to get help. Your child needs to know that you will be there every step of the way.
  • Provide a journal – Give your child a journal where they can document their feelings. Documenting thoughts and feelings can help with processing and coping skills.
  • Participate in an activity – Suggest participating in a healthy activity together that allows your child to release energy, reduce tension and stress, or beat back depression and anxiety. Activities such as yoga, running, kickboxing are all great ideas.

Following the tips above can help you solve teen cutting and self-mutilation. Of course, you will need outside help, too.

For additional assistance, be sure to talk with a therapist. A therapist can teach your child proper coping mechanisms to help put an end to self-mutilation. A therapist can also help you further understand why the behavior is occurring and what you can do from home to assist your child.

Monica Ramunda is a solution-focused therapist with an office located in Louisville, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).