Self Injury and Cutting

Teenagers often face incredible biological, social, and psychological pressures. Some cannot identify or access the tools necessary to deal with their stress in a constructive manner and turn to self-injury in order to find relief from their stressors. Self-injury, also known as deliberate self-harm or self-mutilation, encompasses a wide range of behaviors, from hair pulling and biting to hitting and skin picking; but the most common form of self-injury is cutting.

While some may view cutting as a grab for attention, most teenagers who cut are seeking relief from anxiety or distress. It is important to remember that all individuals experience stress differently, whether due to genetic factors or personal history. Teenagers who are biologically predisposed to experiencing significant distress during periods of anxiety or those who have been previously exposed to abuse or neglect are at higher risk for self-injury, usually because they lack access to healthy ways of dealing with stressors.

Like drug or alcohol abuse, cutting is an inherently unhealthy method of coping with stress. Studies have shown that people who cut experience rapid relief from symptoms of distress and an elevated mood, but self-harm fails to provide lasting relief and instead conditions people who cut themselves to continue injuring themselves in response to stress. While cutting does not necessarily indicate a mental disorder or suicidal intentions, the habit-forming nature of the behavior represents a serious problem regardless of underlying psychological factors.

Every year, between 3 and 6 million Americans perform self-injuring acts, a number that continues to increase. Helping teenagers overcome self-injury can be difficult, but cutting behaviors are inherently dangerous and demand immediate attention. While every case is unique, many individuals experience success through work with a psychologist, support group, or counselor.

For more information on helping self-harming teenagers, Parents Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) offers assistance at


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