The self-injurer is not usually suicidal and is careful about how they injure themselves so they do not require medical intervention. For instance, they will not intentionally cut over a major artery and will not cut too deeply. They typically do not want to end their lives; they just want to feel better.
The teenage years (when self-injurious behaviors commonly begin) can be traumatic times. Especially in our culture where they are presented with decisions and choices they are not mature enough nor equipped to handle.
Our teens have greater pressures than at any time in history; college preparation now begins in the 8th grade for many students as they have to make choices about advanced placement classes. Many high school students work 20 plus hours a week to save for college in addition to attending classes daily and doing homework for those AP classes; teens are given mixed messages about relationships and sexual orientation. Sexual behaviors are taught in school, and promoted in the popular media. In many cases they are pressured to be sexually active long before they are ready emotionally and physically ready.
Our teens are being put in situations they are not ready to deal with! They deal with broken homes, spending alternate weekends with each parent and the pressure that comes from being in the middle of divorce. These are only the “normal” stresses our children deal with! This does not even cover the extreme cases of sexual abuse by a parent or step parent, drug or alcohol use in the home by parents who encourage their children to join them in these behaviors, out of control siblings that raise tension in the home, same sex unions, sexually transmitted diseases or abortion.
They come to believe that there is little or nothing they can count on, that is stable and unchanging. Who can they talk to besides each other? Who can they really trust?
All this feeds into the world of self-injury. It is a method of dealing with indescribable pain and loneliness.
Self-injurers commonly report they feel empty inside, stressed, unable to express their feelings, lonely, not understood by others and fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self-injury is their way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings.