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 by Francesca
 Age 16

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Photo of Francesca
     Francesca, Age 16

  What is Self-Mutilation?

Self-Mutilation or "cutting", self-harm, self-injury, as it is also called, is a clinical disorder, and although it is normally not a symptom of another disorder, it can be accompanied by another disorder. Most adult sufferers of self-mutilation are women, during adolescence the ration between men and women is about equal. Self-mutilation is defined as "the direct and deliberate destruction alteration of one's own body tissue, without conscious suicidal intent". The harm that people inflict on themselves ranges from scratching, hair pulling, burning, cutting, carving words or symbols into flesh, banging one's head or limbs into a wall, bone breaking, as well as other types of self-abuse.

spacerWhy do people do this?
Many experts have said that they see self-mutilation as a trend for the nineties, although self-harm has been a reality for much longer. It affects mainly women as mentioned before, who are you young. The average person that starts harming themselves starts at 14, and normally continues into her late twenties. Most women who are affected are white, middle class, and bright. Classically these women have trouble expressing feelings and have lived through traumatic experiences during their lives. Other women may use it as a way to cope with stress. This stress could be academic or social.
  Self-Mutiltion Drawing

"It is a physical release of all the pent up anger or stress" says one teen, "You see the blood running and it is as if the pain flows away with the blood. It feels right." She continues talking about cutting wounds inflicted on herself. Some women feel that they have to make others happy and not show their emotions. They might receive these messages from media or society, or even form the values that were instilled in them as they grew up. In many cases women have been taught to "turn their suffering inwards". Some women may simultaneously be suffering from other disorders such as depression or bulimia, which affects their ability to reason against "hurting themselves".

spacerWhat can be done?
The fact that women continue to do this is frightening, especially when many of these women feel in control. They can look back on their scars and see how the scars tell a story of different highs and lows in their lives. However difficult it may seem, women can get over self-mutilation. There are now many web-sites, books, and even the SAFE program, which stands for self-abuse finally ends. It mixes different therapies, normally in a month long program. However many people can not take part in this program, or will find that it is not right for them. The best treatment for self-mutilation is therapy because it helps to control the actual symptoms of "cutting" as well as addressing other traumas.
  spacerWhat can a parent do?
When a parent suspects of someone hurting themselves, they should also look for other factors such as:
  • Teens that will wear long sleeve shirts and pants constantly even in warm weather.
  • Unexplained/unexplainable wounds, such as multiple "cat scratches" that keep appearing.
  • Teens might have trouble expressing their feelings.
On the other hand, parents should always listen and not go to any extremes. For example a parent who ignores his or her child because they don't believe or want to believe that the child is doing this. It is also not recommended that parents "freak out" and punish a child because they are hurting themselves. Taking a child to a therapist, and talking to them openly encourages most teens to want help.

spacerAs a teen what can I do?
spacerA teenager who is going through this could go through the following steps:
spacerFirst consider what you are doing, even if it on a superficial level. Do you want to be older with scars all up and down your body? It may help people who are fairly conscious of their physical appearance to suppress hurting themselves.
spacer One basic step to consider is avoiding temptation. Just like when you don't want to eat a lot of chocolate, then you normally don't put a box of chocolates on your table. The same is true for self-mutilation; if you don't want to cut or burn yourself, try to avoid having knives or lighters in your room, and avoid the kitchen.
spacerInstead of giving into a temptation, you can go outside and exercise or even write down what you are feeling.
spacerConsider telling someone that you can trust. For example a counselor, parent or a close friend. If you feel you need help, don't be afraid to get it. There are many web sites that can help, if you just need more information.


spacerSAFE (self-abuse finally ends) - it is an information line - 1 800 DON'T CUT

spacerBodies Under Siege by Dr. Armando Farazza
spacerA Bright Red Scream by Maritee Strong
spacerWomen Who Hurt Themselves by Dusty Miller

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