NSSI Information Sheet for Parents
Non-Suicidal Self-Injury: Deliberately Injuring Oneself Without Suicidal Intent
Most common forms include:
• Self-Cutting or “cutting”
• Preventing Wounds from Healing
Most commonly found among teenagers and young adults. 15% to 25% of adolescents and young adults have self-injured usually by cutting. 6% to 8% do so chronically. Most commonly females.
Attempts to regulate emotions, often Anger, Guilt, Shame, Self-Loathing, Anxiety or Depression, Fear of Abandonment, Fear of Rejection. Some report “emotional numbness.” Deliberate self-harm “allows” them to express pain, release tension and anxiety, calm themselves, or feel something rather than nothing at all.
The attempted feeling is achieved very quickly. This is very self-rewarding. The pain can cause the body to release certain endorphins, which have temporary mood enhancing qualities. But it is a very ineffective emotion-regulating strategy in the long run. It can create a cycle of relief, then guilt, shame, anger with self, anxiety, then more cutting. This cycle can be hard to break without help.
People will tend to keep the self-injury or cutting behavior a secret, causing isolation from others who could help. It also tends to inhibit people from getting counseling and learning better strategies to deal with their emotions.
Self-harm behaviors like burning or cutting can lead to infections, permanent scars, or accidental death.
Douglas Cowan is a Marriage and Family Therapist providing professional therapy and Christian counseling to Tehachapi and Bakersfield, CA.
Who is At Risk?
Several risk factors are associated with a higher likelihood of these behaviors. One of the strongest predictors of NSSI is a childhood history of abuse or sexual trauma. NSSI ( cutting, etc.) is also more common among individuals with eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders. In general, people are at heightened risk for NSSI ( cutting, etc.) when they have extreme difficulty regulating emotions, and when they tend to behave impulsively.
Most girls and young women who cut themselves are not suicidal. It is not a “cry for help.” They don’t want anyone to know, so they wear long sleeves. Often the cut is on the upper thigh where no one will see. Recent studies indicate that over 20% of teenage girls and young women are self-injuring ( cutting, etc.) on a regular basis, 35% in the course of any given year, and over 50% have tried it at least once.
Females tend to use self-injury as a means of “self-punishment,” rather than being depressed. It is often seen as a way to “atone for their sins” rather than as a small suicide attempt. It is their sense of “guilt” or “shame” that most needs to be addressed.
With teenage boys and young men, this behavior is less common. About 8% of males will self-injure. Cutting is rare. They tend to smash things, or hit themselves out of loneliness or frustration. Most males who self-injure ARE depressed, often feeling strong emotions of rejection after the break-up of a relationship. Often the males who self-injure are also struggling in other areas of their lives. This is potentially very serious and needs professional help immediately.
What is the treatment for NSSI?If you or a loved one is engaging in deliberate self-harm like cutting, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional as soon as possible. A therapist can help you begin to understand how this unhealthy pattern developed, the function of the behaviors, the specific triggers, and how to break the cycle.
Ultimately, the goal will be learning to better identify and tolerate your thoughts and emotions, and developing healthier coping strategies. In addition to talk therapy, a psychiatrist may recommend medication to help with your emotional distress.
Douglas Cowan, Psy.D. is both a pastor, and a licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor (M24381) with his main office in Bear Valley Springs, just outside of Tehachapi, CA. He also can meet with people in Bakersfield at “The Practice” Family Medical office, and is always available to counsel with people via Skype or Facetime from anywhere in the world. To reach Dr. Cowan call him directly at (661) 972-5953 or email him at newideas.net at gmail.com. Learn more about counseling in Tehachapi with Dr. Cowan here.
keywords: NSSI, anxiety, cutting, depression, teenagers, self-injury, counseling, Tehachapi