Their age is 13, 15, 17 years … and they cut their skin with a razor or burn with a cigarette. They are more than we think, experts say. And they explain: in this way, adolescents report on their acute experiences and ask for help.
I am 14 years old. When scandals at school become unbearable, I take a penknife and try to make myself as painful as possible. When there is no knife at hand, I thrust a ballpoint pen into the skin or scrape myself to the blood. I do not know why, but when I do this, it becomes easier for me. As if I pull a splinter out of my body. Are I alright? ”Such alarming letters from teenagers also come.
There are letters from parents: “My daughter is 15 years old. I recently noticed burn marks on her arm. It’s not possible to talk about it, she takes any word of mine with hostility and refuses to meet with a psychologist. I feel completely impotent and do not know what to do now. ”
Traces of the blade on the forearm, burns from cigarettes on the body, rugged legs – almost 38% of teenagers at least once tried to injure their body. The realization that his own child is hurting himself, horrifies his parents. The automatic, at the level of a reflex, the desire to relieve him of pain is faced with an unusual obstacle – the absence of the enemy and the external threat. And the question remains: Why did he do it?
Contact with your body
In maturing children from about 11–12 years of age, desires, interests, behavior change – their inner world becomes different. It is especially difficult for adolescents to adapt to changes in their body. Stretched arms and legs, changing gait, other become plastic movements, voice. The body suddenly begins to behave arrogantly: erotic fantasies and treacherously spontaneous erections in boys; menstruation, often painful, in girls, may also begin at any time – at school, in training.
“It’s as if the body becomes something separate,” says family psychotherapist Inna Khamitova. “To hurt yourself is one way to get in touch with him.” The behavior of teenagers is reminiscent of the gesture of a man who dreams of a bad dream: he wants to stop him, pinch himself and wake up. ”
At 37, Tatiana clearly remembers those years when she was cutting her hips: “I grew up in a family where it was forbidden to complain – my parents did not understand this. As a teenager, I could not find the words to express everything that tormented me at that moment, and I began to cut myself. Now I understand that this was a way not only to deceive adults, but also to console myself: now I know why I feel so bad. ”
Teenagers, by damaging their body, are experiencing. infant self-omnipotence
Many modern teenagers, like Tatiana once, find it difficult to express their feelings – they know themselves insufficiently, and they are frightened by the distrust of adults in their feelings. In addition, many simply do not know how to talk openly and honestly about themselves. Having no other means of relieving emotional stress, adolescents force themselves to experience pain.
“In this way, they are struggling with immeasurably greater suffering,” says psychotherapist Elena Vrono, “it’s difficult to trust yourself if you are sure that nobody understands you and the world is hostile. And even if this is not the case, the behavior of many teenagers is governed by such an idea of themselves and the world. Nevertheless, their actions, frightening adults, are not associated with the desire to part with life. On the contrary, they confirm the desire to live – to cope with suffering and to restore composure.
The paradox of the moment is that adolescents, by damaging their bodies, survive. Infant sense of own omnipotence. “The body remains the only reality that fully belongs only to them,” explains Inna Khamitova. “By damaging it, they can stop at any time.” By controlling their body in such a wild (from an adult’s point of view) way, they feel they control their own life. And it reconciles them with reality. ”
And yet their frightening behavior speaks of the desire to live – to cope with suffering and regain composure
Physical pain always muffles mental pain, which they cannot control, because you can’t make you love someone you love yourself, you can’t change your parents … She can also point to experienced violence (mental, physical or sexual).
“Demonstrating the wounds that a teenager has inflicted on himself,” says sociologist David Le Breton, “he unconsciously draws attention to those that are not visible. The cruelty that children show in relation to themselves, allows them not to show it in relation to others. It acts in the manner of bloodletting in ancient times: relieves excessive internal stress. ”
They hurt themselves so that they no longer experience pain. Many teenagers talk about the feeling of relief that comes after self-inflicted wounds. A 20-year-old Galina writes about this: “After the cuts, moments of absolute happiness came. All dark feelings seemed to flow out of me along with blood. I stretched out on the bed, and I finally felt better. ” It is this peace that entails the risk of becoming addicted: to destroy oneself in order to feel better. It is based on the analgesic effect of the action of endorphins – hormones that are produced in the body to drown out pain.
“I cut myself from about 14 to 17 years,” recalls 27-year-old Boris. – I stopped only when I became a student and left home. Today, thanks to psychoanalysis, I came to the conclusion that I was so disliked by my mother. She did not want me to come into the world and let me understand it every day. For her, I was the most worthless creature that never achieved anything. I felt terrible guilt behind me and regularly punished myself for not being worthy of her love. ”
“A child who did not have enough tender touches in the first years of life, growing up, can continue to experience this painfully,” explains Elena Vrono. – The body, which he never perceived as a source of pleasant sensations, remains detached, external to his personality. By wounding himself, he seems to be breaking the boundary between the inner and the outer. ”
Cuts and wounds on visible parts of the body help children to attract the attention of adults to themselves
Parents can increase the suffering of adolescents. “From the best of intentions, many of them try not to praise the children, as if they could spoil it,” says Inna Khamitova. – But children at any age need support and approval. They believe what we tell them. If adults constantly criticize a child, the child becomes accustomed to the idea that he is a bad (ugly, clumsy, cowardly) person. Self-harm can also be a revenge for a sensitive teenager, a punishment for being so bad. ”
But, hating themselves, adolescents do not understand that they really hate the opinions of others about themselves. This is confirmed by the 16-year-old Anna: “Recently, I strongly quarreled with my best friend. She told me terrible things – that I do not love anyone and that no one will ever love me. I felt so bad at home that I scratched all my knuckles on the plaster. ”
In families with an authoritarian style of upbringing, when parents tightly control not only behavior, but also the emotions of adolescents, self-harm, according to Inna Khamitova, “can become a way of combating the power of parents.”
The teenager argues something like this: “At least in relation to myself, I will do what I want.” And always cuts and wounds on visible parts of the body help children to attract the attention of adults to themselves. These are signals from which parents can no longer dismiss, writing them off on the features of the transition period.
It is important to understand the difference between single strength tests (“can I endure it?”), Written in blood by friendship oaths and repetitive self-torture. The first ones are connected either with the recognition of their “new” body and experiments with it, the search for new sensations, or with the rituals that exist among their peers. These are transient signs of finding yourself. Constant attempts to hurt yourself are a clear signal for parents, requiring specialist treatment. But in each case when adolescents show aggression towards themselves, it is necessary to understand what they want to say. And we have to listen to them.
What to do?
Teenagers seek understanding and at the same time carefully protect their inner world from intrusive invasions. They want to talk – but they can’t express themselves. And therefore, – our experts believe, – perhaps the best interlocutor at this moment will be not parents, who find it difficult to remain passive listeners, but someone from relatives or friends who can stay close, sympathize and not panic.
Sometimes, to stop a child is enough. good beatings from parents. In such a paradoxical way, they make it clear that he has gone too far, and they express concern. But if such behavior becomes a habit or wounds pose a threat to life, it is better not to postpone to consult a psychologist. It is especially important to do this in the case when a teenager becomes withdrawn into himself, begins to learn poorly, feels constant sleepiness, loses his appetite – such symptoms may be a sign of more serious psychological problems.
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