Why do adolescents self-injure?

 

The most common motivation for self-injury in adolescence are to regulate emotions and cope with negative feelings, to express anger or hatred towards oneself, to alleviate experiences of dissociation or relieve feelings of numbness, to communicate feelings and elicit help from others, to avoid thoughts of suicide or prevent oneself from attempting suicide, and to generate feelings of excitement or exhilaration.

 

A common misconception is that adolescents self-injure for attention or to manipulate others. However, most adolescents self-injure in private and hide the behaviour from others. Although some adolescents may self-injure for attention or to influence others, most of these adolescents self-injure to elicit help from others or to communicate their distress to others, rather than to draw attention to their self-injury.

 

Adolescents who self-injure are also not trying to end their own lives. Adolescents self-injure because they don’t know how else to cope with the sadness, anxiety, or anger they may be feeling, and self-injury helps them to cope with these emotions and feel better, at least in the short term. Adolescents who self-injure often want to stop engaging in the behaviour, but continue to self-injure because they don’t know how else to cope and self-injury makes them feel better. This may help to explain why students who self-injure are reluctant to stop engaging in a behaviour.