Treating Self-Injury in Teens and Young Adults

Self-harm or self-injury is a form of a psychological impulse-control disorder that leads people to physically harm themselves (such as cutting or burning) in order to find relief from mental or emotional angst.  Teen self-injury involves inflicting pain upon themselves as a means to punish themselves according to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and/or low self-worth. At other times, it may be to relieve themselves from emotional pain, seeking something else to distract them. Some teens with depression will experiment with forms of self-harm before attempting something more drastic, such as suicide.

Because the body naturally releases endorphins in response to an injury, people can become addicted to pain. They may make excuses for why they inflict pain on themselves, as a “way to stay awake”, or they may seek exceedingly painful ways to inflict harm on themselves. Most of the time, self-injury or self-harm is caused by another disorder, or a series of mental health issues.

Paradigm is the best place for adolescents seeking treatment. Some of the best staff I have ever encountered. It is very structured which I feel is important to the success of recovery in minors. – Rose M.

What Does Teen Self-Injury Look Like?

  • It could be considered counter-intuitive that a person who self-injures (often making visible marks on themselves) tend to try to hide their injuries from others, but this is often the case.
  • In certain cases, self-injury is also often considered a person’s cry for help, either because they’re struggling with their emotions while simultaneously struggling with being unable to express them, or because they’re in deep pain and want help, but can’t ask for it. This makes self-harm difficult to spot and understand.
  • Teens who inflict self-harm will often be withdrawn and aloof, or may hide behind an elaborate social façade, sometimes breaking character and revealing hidden personality traits.

What Causes Self-Injury?

Mental health issues – personality disorders, psychosis, anxiety, and depression are a few reasons why a teen might subject themselves to pain. Because the goal of self-harm can be multi-faceted, and because these disorders often tie into each other, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the behavior to begin with. However, most cases of self-harm occur when a teen is significantly depressed or feels hopeless.

Emotional pain – while a pre-existing mental disorder may be a common cause for self-injury, sometimes, self-harm becomes the first symptom in what later develops into a disorder, triggered by some other form of emotional pain. Anything from the loss of a loved one to a physical assault can cause a teen to pick up self-harm as a way to cope in silence. Furthermore, stress is a massive factor. Many teens pick up self-harm as a way to cope with extremely stressful situations, including family problems and academic pressure.

Abuse – mental and physical abuse is a common reason for self-harm, often because a teen might feel ashamed or dirty for what happened to them, causing them to inflict pain on themselves either to forget, or to punish themselves.

How Can I Help with Teen Self-Injury?

Work on your bond of trust – when it comes to issues like these, there has to be complete and utter trust. Most teens and parents are on rough terms with each other in regard to certain things, and they may hold differing opinions and generally may grow apart in some respect. But it’s important to always maintain a complete and perfect bond of trust. Your teen needs to know that you’re there for them, and you need to be able to trust that they will be straight with you.

There are times when that bond is threatened or broken. But it’s important to mend it. If you’re going to support your teen from hereon out, you need to both trust each other – and they need to know that, as well.

Encourage treatment – supporting your teen is not just about helping them do what they want, but it is about helping them find the right path forward. Sometimes, this might mean helping a teen maintain a daily ritual, helping them manage their medication, reminding them of their therapy assignments, and reminding them of their appointments.

If your teen wants to try out a certain form of therapy or wants to branch out into a specific field of academics or a hobby that greatly interests them, support them in their endeavor. Having fun and being successful at something is just as important to an individual’s mental health as therapy would be.

Take care of yourself – it’s often easy for parents to get carried away while taking care of their teens, to the point where they begin to neglect their own needs and suffer for it. If possible, work with your family or your friends to help your teen and establish a reliable support network, so you can make sure to get the help you might need, as well.

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What Types of Teen Self-Injury Treatment Are Available?

There are several different approaches to helping a teen with self-injury problems seek treatment, and they are often successful, depending on the particular person, and the length of time the person undergoes the treatment. If the cause in question is a depressive episode, it’s likely that medication may be involved. However, the key to preventing self-harm in the future is therapy. Talk therapy is most important, but family therapy or interpersonal therapy may be used to help teens better communicate with others.

Talk Therapy – Because adolescent self-harm disorder begins as a psychological issue, this type of therapy can help teens identify where their urge to inflict pain comes from.

Beyond this, a therapist can help people understand the relationship between what they’re feeling and how that relates to their urge to inflict pain upon themselves as a means to cope with it.  And with time, a therapist can help teens learn healthier ways to cope with their problems and communicate their worries and anxieties effectively.

A therapist can also help the teen develop techniques and ways to stop themselves from going through with self-harming methods. Many times, a therapist serving as an outside observer can help a teen realize what they’re doing is irrational, and that there are better ways to address their problems.

Medication – Medication can be key, especially early on. Self-harm is often caused by a severe emotional low, and at times, medication may be important for helping teens get out of that headspace, and better understand what they’re doing. Medication can help teens with anxiety and depression issues take a step back and regard their behavior from a clearer, healthier perspective. For teens who use self-harm as a way to cope, the link between their emotions and their actions may not be clear at first. Medication can help.

Family Therapy – A common thread in many of these cases is that teens who resort to self-harm are often alone or find themselves feeling lonely and abandoned. They specifically turn to the idea of finding relief through something as drastic as self-injury because they see no alternative, or because they have tried to find help in other ways but have been left dejected.

Interpersonal therapy is key to helping a teen learn how to better communicate with others. Furthermore, this type of therapy is important to help a teen’s family better understand what it is their teen is going through, and why they need to be patient and mindful of the severe nature of their teen’s emotional problems and mental health. It can also help them understand their critical role in the treatment of the problems that led to self-harm.

Teen Self-Injury Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

Paradigm Treatment’s key locations in the Malibu area are all places of nature and healing – but more importantly, they’re places where a dedicated staff works to provide your teen with the one-on-one individual treatment, they need to get better and move on to live a better life. Self-harm is a very complicated issue because it can involve any number of concurrent symptoms or disorders and tying the issue to any one of them can be challenging in some cases.

However, with the right environment and the right teen self-injury treatment plan, your teen will be able to learn how to better cope with their problems, equipped with the right tools to avoid resorting to self-harm again.

A Change of Pace – Paradigm Treatment is away from the stress of what most teenager’s face during their formative years. Being a teenager is always a stressful experience, and it is one of the most tumultuous times in a person’s life. A break away from some of the stress and immersed in a different environment can already make a big difference.

Enjoying Life – Paradigm Treatment is a place for treatment, where teens undergo different therapies and go through a program tailored for them. However, it is also a place where teens are meant to have the freedom to spend time with each other and focus on their own hobbies and interests.

Helping teens foster a better understanding of what they can do and what they should do in the future is important, especially as most teens begin to feel the pressure to find a direction for their life. Paradigm Treatment works with parents to help them continue the treatment process after the program, and part of it involves helping teens manage the stresses of daily life. Learning to have fun, be happy, and be satisfied with yourself are all important to overcoming life’s challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Self-Injury

It’s common for teens with self-harm to be torn between wanting help and wanting to keep their secret. The fear of backlash, or the feeling that you don’t deserve help, can be overwhelming.

But the truth is that the second you intentionally harm yourself, especially with the intent to do it again, you’ve started down a very dangerous and dark path wherein you do not control the way you act or feel. Self-harm is a definite red flag, and a non-negotiable sign that you need to get help. Waiting will only make things worse over time.

It can be scary to need help and very scary to ask for it, and depending on the context, you may not feel like you want treatment. But the truth is that no matter how alone or worthless you may feel, these dark thoughts are often false, and completely nonsensical, and they will come to pass – you just need to reach out and ask for help.

The first thing to do is talk to them. Sometimes, expressing yourself honestly and explaining how you’re worried and scared about your loved one’s behavior can help them realize that what they’re doing is not rational, or a good way to deal with their problems. Simply telling your loved one that you’re there for them, and that you’re ready to help them with whatever it is that they may be going through, may be enough to push them in the right direction, and seek help.

In other cases, it may take a little more patience and perseverance to convince someone to stop harming themselves and get help.

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