Self-harm, which is sometimes called deliberate self-harm, self-mutilation, or self-industry is defined as the act of intentionally causing one’s self physical harm.
This kind of harm is generally not suicidal in nature. Rates of self-harm among teens and young adults is beleived to be somewhere between 15% and 40%.
It’s important to know how self-harm tends to manifest. Generally, self-harm consists of scratching, cutting, burning, piercing the skin, pulling out hair, interfering with existing injuries, or hitting oneself.
Signs of an individual self-harming include physical signs like scars, fresh scratches, burns, cuts, and bruises. You may notice wounds that don’t seem to heal or are getting worse.
There are emotional signs as well. These include things like instability, impulsiveness, and inability to have healthy interpersonal relationships. The individual may also avoid social activities and become more isolated. You may also find collections of sharp objects in their personal quarters, like glass, razors, and knives. They may also wear a lot of bandages and long-sleeve shirts when the weather doesn’t call for it.
What is it that causes a person to self-harm?
According to a study published in Psychiatry Research, preteen girls who have extremely critical mothers are more likely to engage in self-injury than those who do not.
“My research focuses on self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in youth. I am particularly interested in the impact of interpersonal relationships (e.g., the parent-child relationship) on the development and maintenance of these thoughts and behaviors,” said Kiera M. James of Binghamton University, the study’s author.
James’ study is not the only one to make a connection between children who self-harm and critical parents. “Most of the existing research in this area has focused on adolescents, which prompted us to examine whether patterns during adolescence are also present in childhood,” said James.
James’ study involved 204 girls between the ages of 7 and 11 years old and their mothers. The study showed that criticisms from mothers to daughters resulted in the girls engaging in non-suicidal self-harm more often. 60% of the girls who had critical mothers had self-harmed at one time or another.
“Our study suggests that, among children, girls with a critical mother were more likely to have a history of self-injury than girls without a critical mother. Moreover, these results were specific to girls, and were not significant among boys,” James said in an interview with PsyPost.
As with most studies, there were some limitations to the findings.
“This study was cross-sectional. For this reason, although our results are consistent with our hypothesis that maternal criticism increases risk for non-suicidal self-injury in girls, we cannot be certain of the direction of our results from our design,” said James.
“Further, in this study, we focused specifically on maternal criticism. Thus, further research is necessary to examine the potential impact of criticism from fathers and other important adults in the child’s life, as well as the potential protective role of more positive and supportive messages.”
If you have made the discovery that someone close to you is engaging in self-harming behavior, there are some things you can do to support them in a healthy way.
Remember: you don’t ever want to be judgemental of them. Ask them simple questions like ‘how are you feeling?’ Don’t make them feel guilty about it. Let them know that you’re here to talk if they need you.
Be sure that you’re never giving ultimatums, like threatening to ground them, take away toys, or make them move out if they continue to harm themselves. And remember, self-harming will likely only stop when they’re ready to stop. Being compassionate, gentle, and helpful can help that process along.
If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, you can text a Crisis Counselor at 741741.