Self-injury involves intentionally injuring yourself for one of three main reasons:

  1. To relieve emotional pain. A teen may be cutting to cope with feelings of emotional pain. As weird as it sounds, self-injury has a feelgood element to it because of the release of opioids and endorphins. Physical pain serves to override the emotional pain the teen is experiencing, at least for a while. And watching cuts physically heal can also symbolize the healing of emotional wounds. If teens are living with emotional numbness from past traumas, the pain of cutting is a reminder that they’re still alive. It’s an “I hurt, therefore I am” perception. The bottom line is that teens who cut are in pain and want relief and escape.
  2. To deal with deep-seated hatred. Teens may harbor hatred for who they think they are, or because of something they’ve done or that’s been done to them. It may be because they feel it’s safer to aim their anger or rage toward themselves than toward the person with whom they’re truly angry. Whatever the reason behind their anger, they’re looking for relief.
  3. Because of curiosity or to copycat. Maybe a teen has seen someone else do it on social media, in a movie, on television, at school, or while spending some time with a friend and was curious about how it might feel.Boys may be injuring themselves as a sign of toughness.

There are many different reasons why teens hurt themselves. The common thread is that self-harming teens are experiencing some kind of emotional distress. They want relief, and self-harm provides that relief. Of course, the emotional relief obtained by self-harming is short-lived and is usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame. Whether you can understand it all or not, at least get this: it’s all about dealing with unbearable hurt, anger, frustration, and feelings of isolation and self-hatred. If your teen is cutting or harming herself, she is hurting—badly. Her actions speak much louder than her words.