Self Injury and Teenagers

Awareness of non-suicidal self injury is on the increase, however; it remains one of the most difficult behaviors to encounter for parents, caregivers, and professionals alike.  None suicidal self injury consists of a broad class of behaviors defined by direct, deliberate, socially unacceptable destruction of one’s own body tissue without the intent to die. Often, these behaviors include but are not limited to, cutting, burning, picking at or intruding on wound healing, hitting oneself, inserting objects under the skin, and often excessive tattooing/piercing (more than 5). It is estimated that approximately 7% of preadolescents (Hilt, Cha, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2008) , 12 to 40% of adolescents (Ross & Health, 2003), and 17% to 35% of college students Gratz, Conrad, & Roemer, 2002) have engaged in this form of self injury at one time or another.

Self injury may occur in the context of other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and/or behavioral disorders. It may also occur in the absence of psychiatric and mental health disorders.  Motivation for engaging in such behaviors  often includes to stop bad feelings, to relieve feeling numb or empty, to feel something in  the absence of other feelings,  punishing oneself, and interestingly enough – to relax.  A simple summary is to describe motivations for engaging in these behaviors as tension reduction.

Self injury may be only “experimental” or may become habitual.  The  1st step towards treatment is a thorough assessment of the self injurious behaviors. A comprehensive assessment can aid in early detection of such behaviors and aid treatment providers in better understanding the motives behind the behavior. Should you or someone you love be engaging in these type of behaviors,  please contact us at 608–785–7000 or click here  to begin the process of getting the help and relief without harm.


  1. My teenage daughter began cutting herself in order to gain attention from her peers. She didn’t think she was attractive and found that by hurting herself, he peers could no longer hurt her. After discovering the pain she was putting herself through, I found ways to establish a means of open communication and help her from cutting herself any further.

  2. That is so delightful to hear Wendy. This is a scary problem that is treatable and as you found, can develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with your teenager. It is so nice to hear that she can turn to you for comfort and relief instead of seeking it herself. There are so many issues that can be healed through the parent child relationship once the child opens themselves up. We have found through our services, particularly assisting parents and caregivers understand how to comfort when they are confronted with a child’s “miscue” or “cry for help” rather than just addressing the behavior – that indeed, deep wounds can be healed and restored!