Self-injurious behavior: a coping mechanism

Valissa Milanovich
Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau

Healthy YouthCutting and other self-injurious behavior is a scary and confusing topic.

A cutter is a person who harms himself by making cuts or severe scratches on his body with a sharp object.

Other forms of self-harm are burning with lit matches or cigarettes, carving words or symbols on the skin, and piercing the skin with sharp objects.

People often believe these behaviors indicate suicide. This is rarely true. Usually, the person is using self-injurious behavior as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional pain.

When people experience extreme emotional hurt that they are not able to make sense of, they may purposely cause physical pain to themselves by cutting, burning, pinching, etc.

Causing this physical pain makes sense to them, because they can see and feel it. The physical pain temporarily relieves the person from emotional pain and confusion.

Physical pain also causes the body to release endorphins: chemicals that make us feel good. So causing pain not only distracts from emotional hurt, it also brings temporary “feel good” feelings.

Those who engage in self harm have found a way to temporarily deal with their difficult emotions.

How much better it would be for them if they could learn healthy ways to manage their emotions! A counselor or other mental health professional can help.

If someone you know is wearing long sleeves or pants in warm weather, if you find bloody tissues or towels in the bedroom or bathroom, or if there are noticeable changes in mood or behavior, here’s what to do:

- Do not make the person feel ashamed.

- Offer to support the person in seeking help.

- If there is significant blood loss or infection, get medical attention first, then mental health services.

A mental health professional can provide a safe place for people to process what may be triggering the self-harm and to replace the behavior with healthy coping strategies.

The Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau offers individual and family counseling with day and evening appointments. Many insurance plans are accepted, and a sliding scale fee is available for families who qualify. For more information call 651-464-3685.

Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau is a non-profit organization serving the Forest Lake school district and all communities in Chisago County.

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