Your teen seems to constantly have scratches on their arms and legs with unlikely excuses for how they got there. Maybe they also spend a lot of time in isolation and wear clothing that isn’t right for the season to hide their scars. These could all be signs of a type of nonsuicidal self-injury (NNSI), also known as cutting.
Today, studies suggest that nearly 17 percent of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 21 have engaged in self-injury. Why would so many choose to hurt themselves?
On the one hand, cutting can be seen as a symptom of other issues. For example, if a teen is experiencing significant amounts of stress and anxiety in their life, cutting could be a way that they try to deal with these emotions. Put simply, cutting could be used as a coping mechanism, albeit a negative one.
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Along these same lines, teens might cut themselves to physically release pent up negative feelings. In other words, with a lot of inner turmoil taking place, a teen might need a physical action that acts as a symbolic or ritualistic release of all of these emotions that are stored inside. Some teens who are completely overwhelmed feel numb to their emotions and might use cutting as a way to feel something physical instead of just emotionally detached.
A final reason why teens tend to cut themselves is to exercise control over their body and feelings. While cutting causes pain, this is a type of pain that the teen can control and when life is stressful or chaotic, this might be something that a teen yearns for. This factor is particularly true for overachievers and perfectionists who are struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety.
There are many reasons why a teen might cut themselves, but whichever one it is, it’s important to help them seek support and learn positive coping mechanisms for their emotions and stress.