Self-injury in adolescents

"I injured myself while I was rinsing" or "When cutting my knife, I slipped the knife" ... This is how similar cuts on the forearms or wrists can be explained. Because who assumes that someone deliberately cuts into the skin, with razor blades or knives. Cut until blood flows, and deeper, and further. But there are more and more people who regularly hurt themselves in order to relieve a deep emotional distress. Dissociative automutilation is what medical professionals call this behavior. Between 0.7 and 1 percent of the population inflict injuries in a variety of ways, and the trend is rising, experts say.

Intelligence or social status does not matter

They come from all social classes and educational groups and mostly girls and young women. There is no consistent scientific explanation for the unequal gender distribution. For example, social and social standards of behavior are discussed, which demand of women a different approach to aggression and anger than of men.

As a result, women tend to carry negative feelings and thoughts inward and are more self-directed than men. It is agreed, however, that in people who hurt themselves, traumatic experiences in the life story play a major role. Because strikingly often these people had to experience sexual abuse, were physically abused or mentally neglected.

SVV for loss experience or chronic illness

But also loss experiences such as the divorce of the parents can pave the way for self-injurious behavior (SVV) or chronic diseases and repeated operations. The consequence of various traumatizations in the course of life, especially of the child's life, may be a disturbed development of the personality. A personality that is then much more vulnerable than other people's and hard to perceive and express feelings. And who finds a way through self-harm to deal with problems and conflicting feelings or injuries and to regulate their innermost self.

Wide range

There are different forms of self-injury. Cutting, also called cracks, is the most common form. Most razor with razor blades, broken glass or knives, preferably in places that can be hidden from others in clothing, such as arms, legs, breasts and torso. But also burning with cigarettes, irons or on hotplates, scalding, biting, beating your own body up to bone fractures, ripping hair or extreme nail biting are examples of self-injury. And also eating disorders such as bulimia or extreme exercise.

Often early onset

Most self-injurious behavior occurs for the first time between the ages of 16 and 30 years. But it is believed that even now children before the twelfth year inflict wounds for the first time. Self-injury is not a one-time act, but has addictive character for those affected: The desire for the "drug self-injury" is felt to be invincible, a renunciation on it leads to extreme mental distress with restlessness, fear and disturbed perception of the environment. And those affected continue to increase the "dose" by injuring themselves more and more often and seriously.

An unending vicious circle

Even minor interpersonal disagreements can be an unmanageable burden for those affected. And cause them to get into serious mental distress without the environment perceiving it. The inability to cope or objectively deal with negative emotions results in a great deal of helplessness, frustration and anger spreading to one's own person. This feeling of self-hatred splits perception: those affected report a great emptiness, they feel inwardly as dead, as if dizzy, their bodies separated from consciousness, from reality, unfeeling. And only one single wish dominates her thinking: feeling something again, finally ending this terrible state. And suddenly, the whole "ritual" of self-harm expires automatically.

Few people feel the pain that they inflict on themselves by cutting, burning or beating. But no matter what form of self-harm it is, performing immediately brings an infinite relief. As if a balloon inflated just before bursting suddenly released and all the pressure escaped. In one fell swoop, relief spreads, and with the blood leaving the body warm through the skin, the unbearable tension leaves the body. "And for a short time I can feel myself again, feel that I live!" That's how many explain the state they suddenly find themselves in. But the positive feeling lasts only a short time, because with the "awakening" the affected persons distance themselves from their deed and now feel disgust and shame.

A cry for help carved into the skin

If you hurt yourself, you need help. For even if those affected usually act in secret and are afraid of the reactions of the environment and ashamed, this cruel way of dealing with oneself is a cry for help. And while an awful lot of people who hurt themselves have suicidal thoughts, the injuries themselves are almost never committed with the intention of killing themselves. For others, the self-harm is even a kind of caring for those concerned, they take care of their body, "worry" about him, in the only way that is accessible to them.

Do not look away

Most outsiders feel helpless when faced with self-injurious behavior, look away or blame those affected. However, it is important to know: reproaches make themselves affected enough. They suffer badly from their behavior and from being unable to prevent it. It is correct, however, to cautiously address one or the other; to encourage and also to support seeking professional help. The faster the better. The first step may be to open yourself to a doctor you trust. In the treatment psychotherapy and possibly also psychotropic drugs are used.

Only courage

The path of treatment is usually long and often stony. After all, those affected must, so to speak, learn a new, previously unknown language: to translate their skin incisions into words, to find a new, better way of expressing them. And they have to learn to renounce their old, wrong but well-functioning principle, self-injury.

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