Non-Suicidal self-injurious behavior (aka “cutting,” or even burning) can be very concerning to families of someone engaging in such. At first, concerns often center around the severity of the injury, scarring that may be left behind and potential shame resulting from questions or looks from others.
While cuts or burns do need to be assessed for potential further medical intervention (i.e. stitches or infection prevention), the next helpful place to focus one’s energy is on the internal emotional experience of the person cutting and relationship you as a parent or family member have with the child. Behind each incident of self-injury is an unresolved emotional experience.
An expert in the area of non-suicidal self-injurious behavior, Dr. Chris Simpson, LPC and Associate Professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, stresses the importance of assessing how well you are listening to your child’s concerns and truly receiving what they have to say. In your responses, are you seeking to open up the lines of communication so there can be a more healthy expression of emotions and experiences, in general (not just in relation to the self-injurious behaviors)? Are you helping your child identify specific feelings? Or, in your responses, are you shutting down those lines of communication, perhaps by discounting the feelings they are experiencing? Feelings, though sometimes deceptive, are real. This is important to remember in the effort to help your child through this type of behavior.
Sometimes, those aiming to help might suggest alternative methods of less harmful forms of self-injury, such as snapping a rubber band on the wrist, marking one’s skin with a red marker, or even cracking an egg over the area one wants to hurt in an effort to simulate the feeling of blood oozing out. Simpson points out that these alternatives to self-injury are well-meaning, but not the best options for someone struggling with this behavior because these are simply other forms of the very same thing-self-injury. He says, it doesn’t make sense to “hurt yourself one way, to avoid hurting yourself another way.” One must really get to the root of what the actual feelings of concern are, and determine more healthy ways to address those concerns and see them to resolution. In fact, it has been found that even when a person tries these alternative forms of expressing their feelings, they often return to cutting or burning of their skin, unless the true root emotional issues are dealt with. Success for someone struggling with non-suicidal self-injury is about feelings management. The actual feelings must be (1) identified, (2) explored and (3) addressed in order to find healing.
Excessive Tattoos and Piercings
Sometimes, people wonder if multiple tattoos and piercings are considered self-injurious behavior. The behaviors in and of themselves are not considered self-injurious. Rather, the motivation behind the behavior must be explored. If one is having multiple tattoos or piercings to fit in with their peers, this would not typically be considered under the realm of self-injurious behavior. However, if the individual can tie each piercing or tattoo to particularly emotional event (i.e. a fight with a parent, the death of a loved one, the break-up with a significant other, etc.), then such behavior would be more likely to be considered self-injurious behavior.