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Understanding Self-Injury and How Therapy Can Help

young woman with arms crossed displaying the cuts and scars from self-harm

Whether you’re a parent who’s discovered your teen has been harming themselves, or you’ve been struggling with these behaviors yourself, seeking treatment for self-injury can feel like a daunting journey. Looking for more information is a great first step towards recovery for you or a loved one.

What Purpose Does it Serve?

There are several reasons a person might engage in self-injury. Understanding why you or a loved one use self-injury as a coping mechanism makes it easier to replace it with healthy alternatives. Every individual is unique, and their reasons for harming themselves can be just as unique. That being said, the following are some of the functions that self-injury commonly accomplishes.

  • Grounding and breaking through numbness
  • To express internal pain, externally
  • Self-punishment
  • To distract from mental suffering

It’s important to differentiate between self-injury that occurs as part of suicidal ideation or intent, and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). NSSI is characterized by a preoccupation with self-injury, building tension before engaging in it, and a feeling of release following the injury.

Working Towards Recovery

Letting go of self-injury as a coping mechanism can take some time. A mental health professional can help you get to the root of the issue. They’ll likely ask questions to help you both understand when it started, why it seems to help, and whether anything helps relieve the urges. They can also offer strategies to combat the urge to self-injure. These might include:

  • Distraction: coloring, cooking, writing a letter, and reading a book are all good options
  • Expressing emotions: journaling, calling a friend, and painting
  • Replacements: squeezing an ice cube, snapping a rubber band on your wrist

When someone comes to rely on self-injury to cope, they may need to combine several strategies to reach the same level of effectiveness that self-injury provides. The most helpful way you can approach someone struggling with self-injury is with patience and understanding. It takes courage to reach out for help, and that should be recognized. To get support for self-injury or another mental health concern, contact us to set up an appointment.