Self Injury


About 14-17% of adolescents have engaged in self-harming behaviors, with about 5-8% still actively self-harming.

Self Injury, most commonly known as "cutting" can also be seen in different ways:

  • Scratching
  • Burning
  • Picking
  • Hitting/Banging head
  • Punching or throwing things against your body
  • Swallowing poisionous substances or objects
  • Intentionally preventing wounds from healing

Self-harm can be seen on wrists, legs, stomach/rib area, etc.

Although most self-injury is used by students as a coping mechanism, it can also be dangerous.

There are many different reasons why student's self-injure. Teenagers are faced with a variety of stressors which include, but are not limited to:

Fitting In With Peers

In adolescence, being rejected by your peers is the equivalent of social death. Adolescent students who lack strong social skills often struggle to make friends and may resort to extreme behaviors endorsed by more popular and powerful peers; they may experiment with cutting as their entry ticket into the high-status, inner-circle clique. Many adolescents and children also spend far too much time online, communicating with their peers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Some adolescents have been victimized by peers who play the on-and-off befriending game or spread terrible rumors about them as a form of underground psychological warfare.

Overloaded Stress Circuits

In addition to juggling social connections, many students are trying to manage massive homework loads and are often pressured by their parents to perform at a high academic levels (AP courses, honor courses, etc.). Some adolescents are growing up in achievement-oriented families, in which the parents put undue pressure on them to get straight As. In addition, the parents often push their adolescents to schedule too many extracurricular activities to make them as attractive as possible to top colleges and universities. To cope with the stress, some of the more emotionally vulnerable adolescents turn to self-harm, resort to eating-distressed behaviors like bulimia, or engage in substance abuse.

Quick Fix Solutions

Adolescents are growing up in a media world where one of the most popular messages is that we must obliterate stress and other problems as quickly as possible. What better way to get rid of all your problems than to take a pill, which many advertisements on TV suggest is the ultimate solution for physical, psychological, and behavioral difficulties.

Self-harming adolescents have discovered that their brain chemistry can serve as a 24-hour pharmacy (Plante, 2007). When adolescents self-harm, their bodies immediately secrete naturally manufactured endorphins into their bloodstreams to protect them from physical pain. These endorphins rapidly numb the emotional distress they may be experiencing.

Emotional Disconnect and Invalidation

In families of self-harming adolescents, emotional disconnection and invalidation are common family dynamics. For whatever reason, one or both parents are not emotionally and physically present to comfort their adolescents when they are emotionally distressed. When the parents are present, they tend to respond in invalidating ways, such as by yelling, threatening, becoming hysterical, dishing out extreme consequences, distancing themselves, or not listening. So some adolescents take matters into their own hands—they self-harm to soothe themselves.

Another factor that contributes to emotional disconnection in families is the computer screen. Developing emotional intimacy by means of a screen of some sort has become much more important to some adolescents than having human contact. Brazleton and Greenspan (2000) found that children and adolescents spent, on average, five and one-half hours a day in front of a screen. Close to 70 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds have a TV in their bedroom (Taffel, 2009); laptops or personal computers have most likely replaced many of these.

Parents often do not provide firm guidelines for screen usage and do not regularly monitor the Web sites their children visit. There are many toxic Web sites and so-called online support groups for self-harming individuals where adolescents can witness people brutalizing their bodies, see other graphic images, read poetry and stories with self-harming themes, and learn new methods for self-harming.

Myths and Facts

  • Myth: People who cut and self-injure are just seeking attention.

Fact: People who self-harm typically do it in private. They aren't trying to manipulate others or draw attention to themselves. Shame and fear can actually make it difficult to seek help.

  • Myth: People who self-injure are dangerous and crazy.

Fact: People who self-harm typically suffer from anxiety, depression, or trauma. Self-injury is a coping skill that does not make someone crazy or dangerous.

  • Myth: People who self-injure want to die.

Fact: People who engage in self-harming behaviors do not want to die. Self-injury is not an attempt to kill oneself, just a coping skill used to mask the pain. However, long-term people who self-injure have a higher risk of suicide.

  • Myth: If the wounds aren't bad, its not that serious.

Fact: The severity of the wound has little to do with how much/little the individual is suffering.

Use this guide as a way to try other coping skills:


  • hit a punching bag
  • Use play-dough or clay
  • Break sticks
  • Crank up music and dance
  • Exercise (walk/jog/run)
  • Play a sport
  • Paint/Draw
  • Write down feelings on a paper and rip it up


  • Take a hot bath
  • Light incense
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Call a friend or family member to talk about something you like
  • Visit a friend
  • Pet or cuddle with an animal

Craving Sensation/Feeling Unreal?

  • Squeeze ice cubes
  • Snap your wrists with a rubber band
  • Take a cold bath
  • Focus on your breath, notice your body moving

Wanting to see blood/scars?

  • Draw on your skin with a red felt-tip pen
  • Paint yourself with red paint
  • Get a henna fake tattoo kit

Above are just some ideas. If the thought of self-injury continues, please consult your doctor, counselor, parent, or a member of the wellness team as the outcome could be dangerous.

Substitutes for the cutting sensation

-Use a felt tip pen to mark where you usually cut

-Rub ice across your skin where you might cut

-Put rubber bands on wrists/arms/legs and snap them instead of cutting


Self-Injury Outreach and Support: a website that provides information and resources to those who have self-injured and those who are in recovery.

Most of the information for this page was gathered from: Educational Learning