My Teenager is Cutting Herself (Himself) – What Do I Do?

Self-harm (I am going to call it Nonsuicidal Self-Injury, NSSI) is a foreign concept to many parents and it can be very scary to discover. Historically NSSI was never as transparent as it is today. If you look, you will find young people (and now not so young) who have scars up and down their arms and legs. Please be aware that cutting is not the only type of NSSI. There are many other ways that people harm themselves, but cutting seems to be the second most common (in my practice). First, of course, is chemical use. I will blog about that later.

So why does Nonsuicidal Self-Injury happen and what does it mean?

I have seen three main reasons for NSSI/cutting:

1. Teens want to feel more. They feel numb and want to feel something. Anything.

Cutting self-harm

2. Teens want to feel less emotional pain. They engage in NSSI in order to feel physical pain, which they use to temporarily replace emotional pain. Physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain for this teenager.

3. Teens are afraid to speak up about their needs, and use NSSI as a way to communicate anger/sadness (as well as pain/lonliness/loss, etc.) to specific people. Please do not interpret this as: Teens are cutting for attention. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that if your teen is cutting for this reason, please understand that they are using NSSI as a way to communicate.

There are other reasons that teens/people cut themselves, but these are the most common reasons I have seen in my practice. Please note: NSSI is *almost always* NOT a suicide attempt. Generally people who are injuring themselves do not have any intention to die. That being said, people DO die by self-harm. It is usually an accident; a cut that went too deep/in the wrong place. NSSI must be taken seriously, but the best response is generally not to call an ambulance and have your teen taken to the hospital (unless they are badly injured, of course).

What should you (as a parent/guardian) do?

1. Try to talk with your teen. See if they will talk with you about why they are hurting themselves. Express to them that you love them and that you are very scared and worried about what is going on.

2. Ask them what they need. They may not know, but they might surprise you. Be careful with this one. (Begin my rant): If your teen is self-harming because they did not get what they asked you for (i.e.: a new pair of jeans) and then you ask them what they need and they say, “That pair of jeans,” this is a different situation altogether. Do not get the jeans in this instance. I urge you to meet with a counselor in order to work with your teen on limit setting and coping skills for your teen. (End my rant). If your teen expresses that they need to talk with someone, that they hate themselves, that they don’t feel anything, that they feel too much, I urge you to find a counselor for your teen. If they need something that is impossible, “I need you and dad to be back together again,” they are hurting themselves because they do not know how to manage their intense emotional pain.

3. Do not punish your teen for NSSI. NSSI (though it often results in temporary relief for your teen) is a form of self-punishment. Additional consequences tend to make things worse.

4. Find a therapist for your teen. Your teen needs professional help and they need some skills they don’t have. They need a place to go where they can be honest and open about how they feel about themselves and who they are in the world. For starters, you can read my blog about how to find a good therapist for your teen.

5. I don’t want to sound too negative in this blog, but your teen needs help. Do not laugh off this behavior or get angry and tell your teen that they are cutting for attention. Teens die every day by accidently slicing an artery. Teens feel alone when they cut, and they are trying to tell you that they need something more. A good therapist will be able to figure out what that is.

What else do you want to know about how to help your teen decrease and stop NSSI?
——————————————————————————————————————–Read about Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW, who is a therapist for teens and families in St. Paul, MN.

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77 thoughts on “My Teenager is Cutting Herself (Himself) – What Do I Do?

  1. I use to self harm and personally I don’t think it’s for attention, if people did it for attention then why do we cover it up? I did it because I thought I was ugly and worthless etc. and it just took away the pain and made me feel better.

  2. What do you do if your teen doesnt want to stop cutting, even though it is a serious issue. also, can someone go through withdrawals of cutting? such as shaking, restlessness, irritation, overthinking, or yearning to cut.

    • Great question, m. lewis. First of all, yes, a person can go through “withdrawals” of cutting. A person can become somewhat addicted to self-harm because the act of self-harm releases endorphins (feel good chemicals; similar to runner’s high) in the brain. Cutting can become an addiction because this release of endorphins feels good (and minimizes the pain of cutting). If a person randomly stops cutting when they have utilized this as a coping skill in the past, they may shake, become restless and irritated, etc. because they do not have the skills to manage the emotion that they are experiencing (and their brain has gotten accustomed to the release of endorphins in similar situations in the past).

      If someone does not want to stop cutting, I strongly recommend DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). Please find a program that is on this list, which is comprised of agencies that practice the exact model that the founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, created. DBT is supported by much research and is very helpful in situations like the one you describe: http://www.behavioraltech.com/resources/crd.cfm

      I hope this helps.
      Good luck to you,
      megan

      • Hi
        I am a 13 year old girl on my way into highschool. I have a friend that has seemed depressed lately, she has opend up to me to talk and I am always there to lend a hand but i dont know if that is enough. Lately she wont talk, and i over read a text message she sent to her boyfriend saying “I can’t do this anymore.” I didn’t get much further. Tonight we had a sleepover and I couldn’t sleep. She was sitting right next to me. She was crying, I asked her what was wrong and she just pushed me away. I am trying my best to help her but I don’t think that I am enough any more. What do I do ?

        • Hi Claire,

          I do not have the answers for you, but I tend to believe that getting people additional help is often the best choice you can make. It might hurt in the short-term (she might get mad at you) but you could be the only person who knows how much she is hurting. Please talk to a trusted adult before making your decision, but keeping her words to yourself really could put her in danger.

          Best to you,
          megan

  3. I’m a new student and I don’t know anyone but I’ve seen this girl and I think she cuts herself. I’ve seen the marks on her arms and I’ve seen her cut with a rock but I don’t know her. I want to help her stop doing it but I don’t know how. What should I do?

    • Hi Kam,

      This is a great question. Do you feel comfortable reaching out to her? If so, just talking with her (about things OTHER than cutting) would be a good start. If she is open to talking about things, then maybe you can ask her if she needs help, etc. If none of the things I mentioned feel comfortable to you, I recommend talking with a teacher at school (especially since you witnessed her cutting with a rock). The school needs to know that she is hurting herself while she is at school. They will be able to get her what she needs in order to stop cutting.

      Does this help?

      Good luck to you,
      megan

  4. I recently discovered that my 14 year old daughter is cutting. She has been in therapy for several months but hates it and will not open up to her therapist. I am trying to find a new therapist she might feel more comfortable with. Now I am afraid to leave her alone but I don’t want to make things worse by smothering her. Any advice on how to handle this until we can get to a new therapist?

    • Hello,

      This is a stressful situation. I recommend searching quickly to find a new therapist, and make the message clear: You will go to therapy, so let’s find a therapist you might like together. If she refuses, sign her up to meet with various therapists and then ask her which one she can tolerate best.

      I would rather see you (temporarily) smother her than leave her alone. I know she probably wants to be alone, but you are worried that she will not be safe. Communicate that you would love to let her be alone and that you know she needs alone time, but that her safety is your first priority. Let her know that she will get more alone time back when she is working with a therapist and making progress; that your goal is to let her grow and mature and make her own decisions.

      I hope this helps. Good luck to you.

      Warmly,
      megan

  5. I just saw this morning that my 14 yr old daughter cut herself, she does not cover it up, this is the 3rd time I have seen it, the first time I didn’t say anything, the 2nd she said the dog scratched her (12-14 cuts across her arm-not the dog) How do I handle it this time? I set up an appt with a couseler for next week.
    she is hanging with a boy she likes this weekend, I want to tell her to wear long sleeves and point out that he may be very turned off by seeing her cuts.

    • Hi Trish,

      It is great that you set up a counseling appointment for your daughter for next week. Hopefully she will be able to get the help she needs. I do not think telling her that the boy might be “turned off” by the cuts is the best way to help her see her cutting as a problem. Many teens share with their close friends, boyfriends, etc. that they are cutting, which means this boy might already know about her cuts. Hopefully he will want to support her if he sees them for the first time on their date. Please do whatever you can to not make your daughter feel badly about her cuts; rather, she needs to feel loved, cared about, and supported on her journey to stop hurting herself.

      I hope her therapy appointment goes well.

      All my best to you,
      megan

  6. I have known for a few weeks that my 14 year old daughter is going through something but I just dont understand. She has always had tons of friends and now she only talks to her boyfriend and her male best friend. I know she is cutting, and is really down, typically she is happy and has over a 4.0 in school. Now she doesnt want to go to school and it is a chore to get her up and make her go. She is nasty to me when I offer her a hug or an I love you. She has a wonderful life, parents are happily married grandparents are very involved. She has such confidence in herself and everyone thinks she is perfect. Maybe that is where this is coming from the pressure of being perfect? We met with a psychiatrist and they have put her on some meds and we have the 1st therapy session next week but she has told me I am not talking to a therapist. I have already talked to this theripist and told her she is not really wanting to go and my daughter wants more of a “couch” session then for the therapist to just listen. what else can I do or explain to my daughter that if she will not open up to me she needs to open up to this therapist? thanks

    • Hi Denise,

      Thanks for asking this great question. I see many teens who “will not talk to a stupid therapist,” who end up doing great work in therapy. Most teens (if they see the right kind of therapist) will open up after a few sessions. You have to be patient and wait it out, as some teens will not talk in the beginning. Don’t worry about the therapist; if they work with teens, they are used to the teen who arrives refusing to speak. We deal with it a decent amount!

      I hope she is willing to work in therapy. If she isn’t, maybe ask her to find a therapist that she thinks she would be comfortable working with.

      Let me know how it goes!

      megan

  7. I have a 16 year old daughter, she has been self harming for a couple of years. A year ago she also attempted suicide (overdose). She has been under the care of psychologists and counsellors for years and it does not help! She has major temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her own way, and threatens to self harm, break things or harm myself or her sister.
    I don’t know what else I can do?

    • Hi Lee,

      With the little information I have, it sounds like family therapy might help. Also, DBT therapy might help. It sounds like she is unable to regulate her emotions. Please look into DBT; sounds like this might be the direction you need to go.

      I hope this helps. I’m so sorry you’re going through this with your daughter.

      megan

  8. I am so glad you talked about this. I am a 17 (almost 18 on the 17th) year old who actually is looking for a way to speak to my parents. This helped me understand a bit of what I am going to be facing. I might actually reference this website to them.
    Thank you so much 🙂

  9. We just found out my son is cutting. He admits his is cutting but will not show me his arms, tell us what he is stressed over or so upset about. He basically refuses to talk about it and refuses to talk to any type of councilor. Last summer we found out he had smoked weed and took him to a councilor who did a 2 hour assessment. The councilor told us our son was fine, basically just a normal stressed teenager. He recommended lessening our son’s stress over school and doing home chores while letting our son relax more at home. We thought he had been doing much better. We had no idea he was cutting until I saw his school notebooks where he had written several references to his cutting. My son thought counseling was/is a joke and refuses to talk to anyone. I have explained how much we love him and want to help him work through whatever is causing him to hurt himself. He says he knows we love him and says he doesn’t know why he cuts and refuses to talk about “feelings and stuff” as he puts it. He will be 18 in a couple of weeks, so how do we force him to talk to anyone? How do we help him when he refuses to talk to us or anyone else about what he is going through?

    • Hello Concerned Mother,

      Tough situation. I’m sorry that he’s resisting help right now. My best answer right now is for you to lovingly insist that he has to see a counselor. Even let him choose the counselor if he doesn’t want to see whomever you choose. If he won’t do that, then pick someone for him, and let them deal with his silence. We (therapist who see teens) deal with this a lot. It isn’t abnormal, and often teens will start to do work eventually. Even if he is 18, as long as he lives with you, you can insist that he do certain things. If he is a real stinker, you may have to let him know that you will consequence him if he doesn’t get some kind of help (I’m sure you pay for his cell phone, right!?).

      Hope this helps. Good luck to you and your beautiful son!

      megan

  10. I just discovered that my 13 yr old daughter cut herself last night. She says it was because a kid at school was annoying her. One of her teachers saw the cuts today & sent her to the school counselor & they emailed me stating they had talked to her & that she stated that she has no interest in doing it again. Should I still seek help or keep a check for now? Also, would a seeking a counselor result in her being put into like a psych ward for cutting?

    • Hi Keri,

      I suggest having her see a therapist. You can talk with a potential therapist on the phone ahead of time to find out how they handle cutting. Most therapists by now know that cutting is not a suicide attempt and I rarely see kids getting hospitalized for a single incident of cutting. Ask the question first and then schedule with the right therapist. Even if your daughter says she was going to only cut one time, it would not hurt to have her see a therapist for awhile to ensure that she develops the needed skills to manage herself when people annoy her in the future.

      Best of luck to you,
      megan

  11. Hello Megan,

    I am a Registered Mental Health Counselor in Orlando, FL. I really liked your responses to the questions above. Moreover, I like your genuineness in your website and counseling approach. I would like to know if you know about online resources to share with our teen clients dealing with NSSI and/or books they might find engaging about this topic.

    Thank you so much !!

  12. Hi
    I’m 16 and I’m currently suffering with self harm and suicidal thoughts
    I’ve had trouble for a long time and I no longer want to burnen my friend that I talk to with my problems because I feel selfish. I think the best option would be to tell my mum
    Can you give any pointers On How to tell her? And how to make her understand that it is my fault and not hers?
    Thankyou
    sam

    • Hi Sam,

      I’m sorry you’re in such pain right now. I think the best way to tell parents that you need help and that it is not their fault, is simply by using those words when you talk with them. If your mom blames herself for your pain, all you can do is reassure her that it is not her fault and that you are looking for help so that you can develop the skills to end self-harm and get through your suicidality. She will want this for you. Please talk with her; she will want you to feel better.

      thinking of you,
      megan

  13. i found out on christmas eve (by accident) that my 15 year old was self harming..i was devastated..please tell me how as a mother i have not noticed or seen the signs that she was doing this to herself…she asked me not to tell the rest of the family that she will tell them when she is ready…but im finding it so hard to deal with and i think they need to know but i cant go against what she asked me to do…please help me deal with this as im worried 4 my daughters health…she has been seeing a phycotherapist for a number of months…do i confront the therapist or just wait….please help…

    • Hi Diane,

      It sounds like you didn’t see the self-harm because your daughter was good at hiding her cuts. This is very common.

      It seems like you could have a conversation with her therapist, though confrontation is not needed. Therapists do not always disclose self-harm to parents in order to keep a relationship with their teen client. Therapists will tell parents if they assess the teen as being suicidal or a serious threat to self. This is not always the case with habitual cutting. Often the therapists works not only with a teen on how to decrease/eliminate cutting, but also how to talk to others about the self-harm, etc.

      It probably makes sense to ask the therapist about when to talk with the rest of your family. This is not something you want to do without being very thoughtful about your daughter’s situation. Her therapist will have much more insight than I have on this issue.

      Please be kind to yourself and know that you are not going to figure out everything that your daughter has going on. This is part of the letting go process in raising teens.

      Warmly,
      megan

    • Hi Megan,

      I noticed cut marks on my 12 year old brothers arm. This came up before but he denied it. I’m very worried. He keeps hiding his arm from me. I don’t know if I should tell my parents or not. There have been more marks on his arm this past week than on other days I saw them. I don’t know if he wants to commit suicide. Please help

      • Hello Concerned Sister,

        It is hard for me to give you advice or direction, but I will say that keeping your brother safe seems to be the highest priority. You talking with your parents just might allow your brother to get the help he needs.

        All the best to you,
        megan

  14. Is it wrong for me to go into my daughter’s room when she isn’t home and take her cutting tools away? Will it make her cut more? We just found out that she was cutting last week. She is 16 years old. She has seen the doctor and has started anti depressants. She doesn’t want to do group therapy, but she currently talks to her guidance councilor and a youth councilor at school. We are terribly worried and so scared. Do you recommend any parent web sites to help us understand? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Alison,

      It is not that I think taking her tools away is “wrong.” The truth is, though, if she wants to cut, she will not need tools to do it. She can use her fingernail, a paperclip, etc. The cutting is a symptom of a problem. Figuring out the problem and solution is the best answer, though not easy. More than looking at websites, I encourage you to speak with the guidance and youth counselor at school about this issue. See what they are recommending. Maybe she won’t do group therapy, but will consider individual therapy. There are many possibilities; the best place to start is by talking to the counselors and your daughter about it (if she will talk with you).

      I hope this helps.

      All my best to you,
      megan

  15. I’m 13 and I have been cutting for about a year now. I want to open up to my mom but I’m scared. I’m scared about whether she will support me or tell other people about it. Also I don’t know how to bring up the situation. Please help me.

    • Hello,

      Maybe if you feel too afraid to tell your mom everything in the beginning, let her know that you would like the support of a counselor because you have some feelings that you want help managing. I don’t know your situation, but most parents are open to the idea that their teen needs some help in working with big emotions. If you try this and it doesn’t work, there is a chance you may have to tell her. I know this may be hard, but it sounds like you need to get some help in order to stop hurting yourself.

      I hope this helps. Good luck to you.

      All my best to you,
      megan

  16. I found some old scars on my 14 year old daughter’s hips last summer when we went swimming. She refused to talk about it and got really defensive…she just said it was all in the past and is not happening any more.
    In the past week or so, she left her face book open on her dads PC by accident and we found some very inappropriate comments, and spoke to her about it. We felt we had to monitor her use of social networking and late night phone usage.
    Since then it appears she has started cutting again. We found a message she’d written to a friend about starting to cut again. She also started dressing in black and being really defensive and shut down emotionally.
    The cutting seems to be a result of her feeling unhappy at home, and hating herself, that’s all I got out of her.
    I understand a teens need for privacy but I need to balance that with parental responsibility…the balance is so hard!

    She’s beautiful, clever and funny…I love her so much. She has a stable family life with me and dad working from home.
    Dad is a vicar but we don’t force her to come to church, we respect she needs to find her own opinions.
    I need to know how to stop this problem getting bigger…turning to drugs or other things. And I miss my happy, chatty daughter so badly! She’s agreed to go to a therapist or group therapy but she doesn’t think she really needs to as it’s
    ‘not that bad’.
    How long does this stage last…? I’m desperate for a glimmer of hope and desperate to help her be happy. She doesn’t want me to tell her dad or show me the scars. It’s that normal?

    • Hi Katie,

      A few things:
      1. I’m sorry your beautiful daughter is struggling. This isn’t easy as a parent or a teen.
      2. This is likely not a stage for your daughter. Teens who have a pattern of self-harm turn into adults who self-harm. It is important that you get her appropriate help now. One good site for finding therapists who are skilled at working with self-harm is: http://www.selfinjury.com – There is a list of qualified therapists on this site. If there are none in your area, please ask potential therapists how they handle self-harm before having your daughter start therapy with them.
      3. It is VERY normal for teens to not want to show cuts to other people.
      4. She may say it’s “not that bad” but her behavior is showing you that it really IS that bad. Her actions are speaking louder than her words at this point, and now is the time to find her help.

      Thanks for writing and I hope this is helpful.

      Thinking of you and your beautiful daughter,
      megan

  17. I’m concerned that my 15 year old daughter has started cutting again. She has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder and was taking medication until this last December when she decided that the meds weren’t helping. Her thearapist and psychiatrist have tried working with her but decided to close her file in February. She has been up and down with her moods and today she refused to take off her sweater but would let me see her one arm but not the other. My big concern is the long wait list to reopen her file and the fact that she still is refusing to talk to someone or take her medication.

  18. Hello I have a 13 yr old step daughter who has been living with us for a year now. She cut her arm up a lot but not deep about 4 months ago. I have put her in counseling she just lies and says everything is good or when confronted sticks with I don’t know maybe probably type answers. I told her if she needs a new counseling place we would find one. She says no she likes her therapist . So I don’t know how to get her to open up. She is not one to hide her cuts at school. She does like the pitty and attention. She has recently been telling a group of three friends girls and guys she is gonna cut again and hates life. She is always mad some new boy every week doesn’t like her and tells friends but I love him. I’m gonna cut. Honest I think it’s for a reaction from friends I confronted her in the beginning about it. I too have been through the same thing as a teen but I hid mine I didn’t speak about it. It was for me Noone else. She is quite opposite. She knows how mad I will be if she does it again but as much as she has been talking about it again I think she will soon. She has been through a lot her little sister died in a car wreck a year ago. Her home life with her real mom wasn’t the best of situations. Now I’m trying as a step mom because I love her. I guess I do not understand if boys and bully and her sister and past are all why she is telling her friends she wants to cut. Why does she not open up to me her dad her real mom her counsler? Her wall is up and sorry to say but I’m at my wits end with it being for attention between friends. I would understand hiding it or talking about it. But she can be happy when things are the way she wants and be a sweet girl. So can anyone please help me with a next step? And I got advice but please comment if you think it would work or if it’s horrible. I was told to confront her about talking to her friends about cutting lay a knife out and say here you go do it in front of me. You want attention you need to scream let it all out because of everything happening go ahead. It’s a free zone and I’m here. Will she break down as needed finally? Or will that make it worse?

    • Hi Heather,

      Your situation is super stressful. First, I hope that you are getting the support you need in order to get through this hard time. Second, it seems like your step daughter needs a GOOD and qualified DBT program. Has she tried DBT therapy? Here is a link so that you can find the best programs in your area: http://behavioraltech.org/resources/crd.cfm

      Not knowing much about the situation, I absolutely would not confront her with a knife. This confrontation needs to happen in a controlled and calm setting. The last thing you want is for her to slice her arm badly right in front of you. Again, I don’t know enough about what is going on, but these kinds of conversations should happen in a safe setting. Her cutting cannot be 100% about getting attention. That is generally not true with self-harm.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Thinking of you,
      megan

  19. Hi. I just found out my 13 yr old daughter cut her arm twice at school the other day. I asked her why she did that and she said she just wanted to try it. She had a friend that was self harming herself as well. What should I do? I feel upset. Angry. Disapointed.and extremely worried she is going to continue doing this. She knows its not good to do it as she was always making comments about her friend. But I dont no why she tried it. Any ideas? Thanks

    • Hi Carly,

      Many teens explore self-harm and find that they don’t like it. That being said, I always have teens see a therapist to “check things out,” and make sure that a pattern is not emerging. I know that you are upset and angry, and you get to have those feelings. That being said, the most important thing in this situation is that your daughter get the help she needs. I have written blogs about how to find a good therapist, if you need help looking. Another good resource (for a parenting video and how to find a therapist who works well with self-harm) is http://www.selfinjury.com

      I hope this helps.

      megan

  20. Hello–thank you for this great resource. My daughter is nearly 15. She showed her father her cuts in December and we have been taking her to a psychologist since then weekly. She has revealed that she cuts because I make her mad with my rules. I find this very manipulative. While we are taking her for therapy, I do wonder whether therapy in some ways escalates the drama? We have minimal rules for her and yet we feel over a barrel because of her threats.

    • Hello c,

      This is a great question and it makes complete sense to me. What this says to me is that your daughter needs to be working in her therapy on frustration tolerance. If she cannot tolerate a few, simple rules, this is something that must be brought up in her therapy. If that does not help you, I suggest that she complete a DBT group (see my previous responses). In some ways therapy might “escalate the drama,” but that should be okay temporarily (until she can learn how to manage her frustration).

      Hope this helps. Best of luck to you guys,
      megan

  21. Hi,

    So I’m 15 and I cut, and I have for 2 almost 3 years now. I was hospitalized when mom found out at the beginning of last summer. She kinda freaked out and police came and took me to a hospital (police came because.I was threating taking pills to kill myself). Anyway, after a few months I began cutting again. I hide it a lot better now, and I go to a half day treatment place with group therapy and stuff and I like it but I lie to them and everyone. Everyone including my mom thinks i have been clean since the hospital. I hate lying because my mom loves me a lot and cares, but she is really hard to talk to. I also have to see a social worker at school; he doesn’t know either. Anyway me and my older brother now go to the same school and his case manager is my teacher. My brother had told him I used to cut and about the hospital so now everyday he questions me and doesn’t believe me when I lie and say I’m okay. Anyway I could go on forever … but if I opened up to him would he have to tell people (parents school etc)? Please answer, I feel like I connect with him I hate lying to him please help.

    • Hello,

      To answer your question, I am not sure if your teacher will have to tell the school, etc. It really depends on this teacher’s history with helping students, his level of comfort, etc., but I strongly encourage you to tell more than just him. It seems that you are going through the motions of treatment, to what gain? I know that self-harm serves a purpose in your life, but it is important for you to learn how to manage certain things without injuring yourself. I really hope you will speak with SOMEONE; one of the counselors at your partial day treatment would probably be your best option. It is okay if they are disappointed, etc. They will get past that and will just want to help you.

      Best of luck to you. I hope you are able to open up and talk with one of the adults in your life.

      megan

  22. I sure hope I can get some good advice here..I have a 13 year old daughter, she will be 14 next month. A year ago she was such a happy child and I could hear her laugh and carry on with her friend. This year I am dealing with a child who has self hatred of herself, she thinks she is ugly, fat, and disgusting and no one could love her…I keep asking her if someone has told that to her and she says no, it is how she feels about herself. She is now cutting but the cutting did not start as far as I was concerned until she met two other girls with a cutting isssue. She is so pretty, but if anyone tells her that she lashes out. Last night she told me to throw her away she is not good. I am so confused because she comes from a very loving supportive family and there is not abuse in this household. I got her a councelor but she says she does not feel its doing any good cause all the lady does is listen. She has only had two sessions so far. Last night things exploded I found her in her bed with her cell phone and I told her that she knows the rules about cell phone time after bed time, when I took it from her she started having a fit, bawling and crying that she cut herself again and just wanted to talk to one of her friends. She was literally having a anxiety attack.. I am so confused, and try not to cry because I don’t understand where this is all coming from.. I need someone to talk to, either a parent who is going through this or a teen to explain this to me. Ugh! I am just so sad

    • Hi Kristina,

      I am so sorry that you and your daughter are going through this. I hope that her counselor can help you understand some of the “whys” behind her behavior. Often people who self-harm do so without having any kind of traumatic experience. They come from loving homes. You do not need to find a specific reason why. Your daughter needs to figure it out (with the help of a counselor; her current one may not be the best fit for her) and if there is a family component to why the cutting is taking place, the therapist will include you in that portion of the therapy.

      Another thing you can look into is a DBT group. Please find my link on one of my previous comments on this post. DBT programs have a parent section, which allows parents to meet (when the teens are in a separate group) to talk with the therapist about their teen’s behaviors.

      I hope this gives you a couple of starting places.

      Thinking of you both,
      megan

  23. Hello my now 15 year old daughter has been cutting her hip area for awhile. I didn’t realize her odd clothing choices were to cover her marks. She told me it was in the past but she mentions wanting to do it again to her friends especially when she’s stressed, unhappy, feeling worthless… She asked to be put on meds but I told her they would have to talk to her first and I would look into it. A few days later she said she didn’t want to talk to anyone (though she talks to her friends and internet strangers) At times she is so sad or very angry. I feel I should still have her talk to someone and I was wondering who would be best ? Psychologist, psychiatrist, MSW ?

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your message and question. I may write another blog about your question. For now, the most important things to note:
      1. A psychiatrist generally only prescribes medication. Therapeutic work will not not be done with most psychiatrists.
      2. Psychologists/MSWs/LPs/LMFTs – the most important thing about therapists, is that you find one who is comfortable working with teens and one who is skilled at working with individuals who self-harm. Read about the therapists online or speak with them on the phone. Ask them how they handle self-harm, if they work with teens, etc.
      3. Which graduate degree a therapist got is less relevant to your daughter’s treatment than how the therapist handles cutting.

      I hope this helps.

      Thinking of you and your daughter,
      megan

  24. I found out my 15 yr old had been cutting herself, she said she’s only done it a few times. Her forearm looks bad. She hid it for about a week with a bandaid and bracelets and said the cat scratched her is why she had abandaid on. I happen to see it last night when she got out of the bath, that’s when I noticed a scratch on her thigh last night and said she scratch it somehow. I finally got it out of her and she told me where she hid the razors but couldn’t tell me why and she only did it a few times. I’m scared and don’t know what to do. I talked to ab therapist today and they are getting her set up for an appointment, but she said she doesn’t need to talk to anyone. I’m afraid she get really upset if I tell her and she do it again.

    • Hi Dee,

      It sounds to me like you took the right step in getting her the appointment. This is where you have the ability to take a critical step. If you allow your daughter to not go back (because she said she doesn’t want to talk with anyone) you are allowing her to get away with an untruth that could shape her future. I’m not trying to sound dramatic, it just really IS that true. She obviously has some stuff to work out, or she wouldn’t be self-harming. Often teens do not WANT to talk with anyone about this issue, but that is part of the problem (that should get worked out in therapy). Lastly, you said you are afraid that she will get really upset if you tell her she is going to see the therapist. She might, and if she ends up self-harming because she is upset with you, all the more reason that she needs to go to therapy. Clearly, she is showing you that she cannot manage her frustration, which is a life skill that you will want her to have.

      You are doing the right thing by having her go to therapy. Please have her attend several sessions before making a decision to end therapy (or switch therapists).

      Hope this helps.

      Warmly,
      megan

  25. Dear Megan,

    I am 17 almost 18 & I have been cutting since last summer (2013). I stopped for a while, my mother & father knew I did it, my mom was a beautician so I would steel her razors. Well I now live with my dad and I’m loosing all my friends day by day & the only other way I can relax is to smoke weed, but that will make, the one friend who has been here for me, her leave. I cut myself today and now covering it up from my dad, it’s hard because I love him and I just don’t want to stress him out. He has high blood pressure. What do I do?
    Sincerely,
    Scared Teen -Josie

    • Hi Josie,

      You are smart for reaching out, and I encourage you to reach further. Please try to connect with another adult who can help you. It would be good if you could figure out how to relax without smoking marijuana and cutting. A therapist or school counselor can help. Please talk with your dad and let him know that you need to work on figuring out how to handle stress.

      I hope this helps.

      Thinking of you,
      megan

  26. Hi, I’m in college and I’ve been self harming for a few years now. I’ve gotten really sick of having to hide it from my friends, but I don’t feel ready to give it up just yet.

    I made an appointment with the school counseling office, and I will meet with a counselor in two weeks. I want to discuss my self harm with her, but I’m afraid I’ll get kicked out of school for it.
    Even if they don’t kick me out, what are the normal procedures for counselors when dealing with this sort of thing? Will they just expect me to talk about it, why, how, etc? Or will she help me figure it out?
    How can I tell if the counselor is a good fit for me? There are only a few available through the school, and none of them specialize in self harm (or at least it’s not mentioned in their profiles). I need to do this through the school though, because I get ten free sessions, and I can’t afford to pay for ones from an outside therapist or counselor.

    Also, one last question: are counselors able to diagnose people (such as diagnosing them with BPD or depression)? Or is that just therapists and psychologists? I’ve never really understood the difference.

    Thanks for any help you can give me!!

    • Hello,

      Thanks for writing. Being that you will be going to a college counseling center, most therapists will try to work on the self-harm in your first ten sessions. After that, they will make a referral to an outside therapist. Depending on your situation, ten sessions might be enough, though I usually do not find this to be the case. I have never heard of a college kicking a student out for self-harming. I can’t imagine that yours will. It is hard for me to answer your questions about the procedures involved in treating self-harm as I don’t know your situation or the therapist (we’re all a little different). Usually you will have to complete intake paperwork and then the therapist will ask you what brings you to therapy. You go from there. Most therapists will help you figure out your self-harm behavior. That is the goal, so as to decrease/eliminate self-harm. You will know if the therapist is a good fit for you if you feel comfortable after a few sessions. Most college therapists have training in self-harm, as it is fairly common. Yes, counselors are able to diagnose people. Counselors and therapists really are the same, we all just have different training.

      I hope this helps! Good luck at your appointment. I’m sure it will go fine!

      Warmly,
      megan

  27. I just found out that my 15 year old daughter has been cutting herself. She just started a new school and I think that has a lot to do with it. She is depressed and I feel like there’s nothing I can do. I have made an appointment to see a counselor but I need to know if there is anything else I can do. She won’t open up to me nor her grandmother. She’s not one to do things for attention. She’s extremely mature for her age and she is generally the one daughter that I can count on to get things done. She has 3 other siblings in the house and I guess I didn’t think she had a bad life with all of us living under one roof happily. This is quite a shock to me as the school called me this morning to come and pick her up because they discovered the cuts on her arm and leg. Please tell me what else can I do to comfort her. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to talk about it. Thanks for any help that you can provide.

    • I wanted to also know since I have been made aware that my daughter is cutting by her school, how should I treat her at home? Do I act like there is nothing wrong or shall I be constantly asking her if she wants to talk about it? Should I start giving her extra attention or showing affection? More hugs, kisses and telling her that I love her and care about her and reminding her that she’s too precious to inflict this kind of harm to herself. Any advice you can give me will much appreciated. Thanks, Val

    • Hello and thanks for writing.

      You have taken the proper first steps to getting your daughter the helps she needs. You said that you “didn’t think she had a bad life” and I want you to know that her self-harming does not mean that she feels she has a bad life. It communicates that she cannot manage something in her life that she is experiencing (often the issue is that teens who self-harm are unable to communicate certain emotions verbally) and that she needs to learn more ways to either communicate or set boundaries. Her therapist will be able to help with this. If she is not ready to talk about it with you, that is fine. Depending on what she has going on, she may never need to talk with you about it, though her therapist will be able to help you in this area. To answer your question about what you can do, there is not a lot. Be there for her, get her started in therapy, and ask the therapist questions you have. I hope this helps.

      Wishing you and your family all the best,
      megan

  28. I am at a loss with my 16 year old daughter. She has been depressed for over a year and on medications. We have switched meds because the Prozac made her crash and have suicidal thoughts. She has been in counseling and seeing a psychiatrist. Most of her friends at school were cutting or attempting suicide. We mentioned moving closer to family when she finished high school, she stated she wanted to move now to get out of the bad environment at school. She struggles with classes and gets overwhelmed with school. We ended up moving, hoping the change would be good for her. She was excited about school and signed up for school full time (previously she was homeschooling part time). Now she seems to be crashing again. She just told me she cut herself the other day, for the first time. She said because she felt like everything was building up inside her and it was a physical release.
    I do not know what else to do for her. I get on her to do her homework, clean her room, but I am feeling that if I push her to do normal chores, she will hurt herself.

    My question is, what realistic expectations can I put on her without worrying that I cause her to hurt herself.

    Thanks for any insight.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for writing and I’m sorry your daughter is struggling so much right now. Chores, homework, etc. can be a fine line to walk when a teen self-harms. That being said, your daughter NEEDS to get to the point where those daily tasks do not cause her such stress that she might hurt herself. Please read some of my other responses to find a DBT therapist near to you. This would be good for her to complete. My hope is that sooner than later you will be able to make normal parenting demands (homework, cleaning) and this will not be a source of stress in your home. As a parent, you need to be able to have these expectations for your teen because later in life your daughter will be better equipped to deal with bosses, etc.

      Wishing you the best,
      megan

  29. I just found out that my 13 year old daughter has just started cutting. She tells me she doesn’t know why she does it and she is refusing to go to therapy. All the research I have done on the subject says that therapy is extremely important. I’m worried that I can’t help her on my own. Not sure what to do now.

    • Hi Kerry,

      Your gut is right on this one. She needs to see a therapist. She can be resistant and kind of yucky in the process, but get her there. I’ve had teens not talk to me for weeks on end (when I first meet them). Eventually we do the work we need to do.

      Good luck to you.

      megan

  30. My daughter is 13 and she has been cutting, but won’t tell me why. She says it’s personal. She will not talk with me or her father or the counselor about why she does it. She said she talks to her “on line friends” about it and this helps her to feel better, because some of them are going through it too. I want to help her, but she keeps saying that my help makes things worse, and that she knows what to do to stop. She said that she went a longer time between cuts this last time… and although she can’t guarantee how many more times she will cut, she will stop herself. I love her so much and want to do the right thing, but feel so helpless.

    • Hi Kate,

      From afar, it sounds as if you are doing all the correct things to support your daughter. She may warm up to the therapist and talk more. She may already do some sharing with the therapist that you are unaware of. Often I recommend family therapy when a teen is doing individual therapy related to self-harm, though teens hate the sound of family therapy. In the end, it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. If you decide to do family therapy, make sure the therapist has training in working with individuals who self-harm. That is very important.

      Keep loving your daughter; keeping telling her that you support her; make sure boundaries are clear in your home; try to communicate with your daughter’s therapist. Again, from afar it looks as if you are doing many things well here.

      I hope this helps. All my best to you,
      megan

  31. Hi meagen. I’m Jake, 15 years old, I’ve suffered with depression for about a year or so now and I’ve been self harming (cutting and burning) for about the same time. Not too long ago a girl at my school saw my scars and got really scared and told a teacher who in turn told a counselor who called me into his office. I lied to him and told me I don’t cut and he let me go . But, of course, he called my father and told him about the whole ordeal. That night he took me out to dinner and forced me to show him my scars. He tried to get me to explain why I did it but obviously it wasn’t that easy. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it. He basically called me an attention seeker. He threatened to send me to a mental hospital to get “help” and said that he already scheduled an appointment (he lied) and I told him my friends help me (they do) and he called me an attention seeker, saying “drawing attention from your friends isn’t the same as them helping you” and after that night we’ve never talked about it again, save ONE comment made by his brother (my uncle) saying “your uncle says I should just cut your arm off, that’ll solve the problem” in his usual drunken joking manner. Its incredibly awkward, and I want to go to my counselor to seek help but I really don’t want him/her to talk to my father about it. I’ve considered talking to my mother but I’d have to wait until she gets out of incarceration, and that will be a while. My point is, I don’t know if I can take being so sad for so much longer. I’ve already attempted suicide and I’m considering it again. I want to seek help but I’m afraid my father would just get angry like he did when he figured out. Its obvious he doesnt care if I cut or if I’m depressed. Any help you can give to my situation will be really appreciate . Thank you.

    • Hello jake,

      I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. I encourage you to talk with the school counselor, if just to say that you’re ready to talk with a therapist. It does not have to be a big “ordeal” and you can tell the counselor that the last attempt at getting help did not work with your dad. Perhaps the counselor can attempt a different technique, and simply make a referral to a therapist. It absolutely sounds like you are ready to end the pain, and a qualified therapist will be able to help you do just that.

      I hope my thoughts are helpful. Please know that often parents have no idea how to handle self-harm, and they sometimes become angry because they feel helpless. I am not sticking up for your dad, but it sounds like he did not know what to do. Calling you names simply isn’t helpful. I hope that talking with the school counselor will direct you to the right therapist so you can change your life.

      All my best to you,
      megan

  32. Good day Megan

    I found out about 4 months ago, that my 14 yrs old son was cutting himself i got his phone and started looking for any messages i found out that he likes this girl from middle school. but iguess she doesn’t like my son that wat he was texting his friend about what he was doing So his best friend told him to stop hurting himself. So he stopped doing it

    I did notice that he as warring his sweater all the time and his hoody but i asked him if hi was cold he said yes. Then i guess he for got that he had cut himself that day. And as he was taking to me i noticed that he had a big cut on his forearm i asked and he said that he hurt him self playing basketball.

    it was been six months now that just last week i have noticed that he goes to bed early and he lost his appetite . So that’s like a red flag that is something bad is going on so my niece and i started looking for anything sharp. So we found tweezers and Box cutter. His friend totd us that he usually hurts himself after he showers. That’s every night. Dont know what to do.

    PLEASE HELP ME .

    THANK YOU

    • Hello Margarita,

      I am so sorry that your son is self-harming. The very basic answer to your question is to get him started with a therapist that he feels he can trust. This would be a good starting place and you will have someone who can advise you on specifics related to your son’s situation.

      Warmly,
      megan

  33. Hello.
    I am 15 and I have been cutting for a little over 2 years; I have also thought a lot about and have attempted suicide. My dad found out about it in 8th grade and I’m pretty sure he knows I still do it. My whole family knows also. Anyway, the counselor at my high school found out and is telling my dad again (this is the same thing that happened in 8th grade) and I’m worried. He took it okay in the past but it was really awkward. The counselor at my school asked if I was suicidal and I said no. But the problem is that my dad is the reason I cut. He verbally abusive and stresses me out so much. I tried to express this to the counselor, but he said he still wanted to tell my dad. I would talk to a therapist if I had one, but I feel like they would tell my dad everything and that I couldn’t express my suicidal thoughts without them telling him. If it isn’t evident, I really don’t want him to know. I want help, but i’m afraid that the counselor would just tell my dad everything I say and things would just get worse. Any suggestions on what to do?

    • Hi Summer,

      I’m so sorry the stress is so high between you and your dad. I really encourage you to allow the school counselor to talk with your dad, in order for you to start seeing a therapist. Maybe express to the counselor that you would like to start seeing a therapist. From there, you can talk with the therapist and figure out a way to work with your dad in order for him to make changes. Also, you would work with the therapist on how else you can manage your hurt feelings other than cutting.

      I hope this is helpful. If you are clear with the therapist that you are worried about what he/she will tell your dad, the therapist should be able to tell you right then and there what he/she will/won’t tell your dad. From there, you can move on in the therapy.

      Wishing you all the best,
      megan

  34. Thank you for taking questions

    I am a cheer coach. I have a 13 year old who cuts. At first she covered. Now she doesn’t care who sees. She has been in counseling. I’ve been told to ignore it.
    When she gets upset at practice she digs her nails into her arms if she gets upset with a coach, teammate or herself.
    Tonight she got upset and scratched her face all the way down and drew blood.
    This young lady is very manipulative. She knows no one will say anything and I have to agree – I usually will not as to her parents wishes. But it is wrong not to be able to confront bad behavior for fear of her going home and doing worse. I don’t want that on my conscience but it is not fair to our squad.
    I’m at a loss to know what to do since everyone is just ignoring it from parents to school officials.

    Thank you for any help

    • Hello coach,

      Thanks for your great work with young people. Coaches are amazing and helpful.

      Given that she is manipulative and that she does not manage her anger well, I would set up a meeting/another meeting with the parents, and let them know how her behavior is impacting the team. If it is causing problems, her parents should be in the loop and then maybe you can problem-solve together. It seems as though ignoring the behavior in practice is not helping the problem to go away.

      This is a hard situation. I hope she is with the right kind of therapist and that she is doing DBT therapy.

      Hope this helps.

      Warmly,
      megan

  35. I was just released from a 4 year prison stay. The other day while hanging out with my 14 year old step-daughter I noticed that she has been cutting while I was gone. When I asked her why she told me ” I don’t know ” . She normally will talk to me about anything but not this. I am her stepfather and her father is not in the picture and she sees me as her father. I know a few things that may be causing it. She has a little brother that she feels her mother favors because she gets yelled at for picking on him. Honestly her mother favors him a little bit. I don’t know what to do I’m scared for her. Any advice?

    • Hello Worried Father,

      I strongly encourage you to have her meet with a therapist who specializes in working with teens. If favoritism plays a role in her self-harm, that will come out in the therapy (which can then be worked through with the therapist and mom). This would likely be better than you giving mom this feedback.

      I hope this helps.

      Best to you,
      megan

  36. Hey, I self harm, and I decided to open up to someone. The problem is I don’t know who to open up to. I feel like my friends would judge me, and my boyfriend would dump me. Should I tell one of them or not?

    • Hello,

      It is hard for me to know whether or not you should tell them. This is something only you can decide. If you have reasons to believe they may not be trustworthy, I would encourage you to discuss it first with a trusted adult.

      I hope this helps and that you get the support you need.

      Warmly,
      megan

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