Self-Injurious Behavior


It’s what all parents dread: finding that their son or daughter has been intentionally hurting themselves. These kids and teens are in a lot of emotional and psychological pain, and need treatment immediately.

Cutting is when a person intentionally hurts themselves to the point of drawing blood. It is done to release negative emotions, or to distract oneself from emotional pain. Most teens who are cutting are going through a very difficult time in their lives. Some people don’t even know why they are doing it.

Other types of self-injurious behaviors include:

  • Punching oneself
  • Burning oneself
  • Pulling out one’s own hair
  • Poking objects through body openings
  • Breaking one’s own bones
  • Bruising oneself
  • Plucking hair for hours

Ironically, most teens who do these behaviors are not trying to kill themselves. They are trying to find a way to make the pain in their life stop. Cutting is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Most of them say they are trying to feel something, anything, since they have gone “numb” in their emotional life. They may be fighting Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, low self-esteem, rage, substance abuse addictions or loneliness.

Parents who have discovered that their teen is cutting should:

  • Call a professional for help immediately.
  • Remove the cutting tools and objects from the immediate area.
  • Allow other, less dangerous, self-injurious behaviors, such as squeezing an ice cube, drawing on the skin with a red pen, or snapping a rubber band on the wrist.
  • Allow other expressions of emotions, such as drawing, writing poetry or rap music, scribbling on paper, hitting a punching bag, pillow or bed, screaming into a pillow, ripping up old newspapers, talking to self out loud in the privacy of their own room, and calling or texting trusted friends.
  • If there is bleeding that will not stop, go directly to the Emergency Room at your local hospital.

Most teens who have been cutting will be prescribed an anti-depressant, and/or an anti-anxiety medication. Find a quality child and adolescent psychiatrist, who will oversee the proper type of medication, dosage and track improvement. These are powerful medications. Never stop taking them “cold turkey” and never take them differently than prescribed. Doing so can be extremely dangerous.

Here is an interesting article about a group trying to help teens with cutting behavior:

Thanks for reading. Let me know if I can be of service to you in any way.


Jaril Faith Gallup, LCSW

anxiety resources

helpful websites

  • TroubledWith: Stress
    Excellent collection of resources on dealing with anxiety disorders, as well as when and how to seek treatment.
  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
    National, non-profit membership organization dedicated to informing the public, healthcare professionals and legislators about anxiety disorders, promote the early diagnosis, treatment and cure of anxiety disorders, and improve the lives of the people who suffer from them.
  • Freedom From Fear
    National not-for-profit mental health advocacy association developed to impact, in a positive way, the lives of all those affected by anxiety, depressive and related disorders through advocacy, education, research and community support.