Self-injurious behaviors (SIBs) can be maladaptive ways of coping with stress and intense emotions. Some people exhibiting SIBs might experience extreme changes in mood and struggle to regulate their emotions. They might resort to harmful behaviors as a way of relieving their emotional turmoil by cutting, burning, strangulation, head-banging, throwing themselves down to the ground, or other means of self-harm. Those engaging in these behaviors can find healthy replacements to manage their emotions.
What Are Maladaptive Coping Skills?
Maladaptive coping skills develop when individuals resort to coping in a way that can create more problems. These methods of coping can range from isolating when feeling depressed to more extreme behaviors, like SIBs. Maladaptive coping skills often develop in childhood when kids do not know healthy alternatives for regulating their emotions. For example, kids who deal with body-image issues might experience intense emotions of shame and self-hatred. To cope with these powerful emotions, they might cut themselves to “punish” themselves for how they feel.
While maladaptive coping skills can create other issues or provide temporary relief, these habits can be challenging to break. When kids have no other outlet or means of dealing with emotions, they fall back to what is accessible. For parents, seeing kids engage in SIBs can be shocking and upsetting. Some common SIBs include:
- Scratching and pinching the skin or other body parts
- Cutting, ripping, or carving skin
- Burning one’s self
- Interfering with the healing of wounds
- Rubbing sharp objects into the skin
- Swallowing inedible objects, like batteries, razors, or pens
- Ripping out hair or eyelashes
- Impacting one’s body into objects, walls, etc. to the point of bleeding or bruising
- Eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, can also be considered a means of self-harm
When parents find evidence of kids engaging in these behaviors, they might struggle in their reactions. Understandably, when we see our kids hurting themselves or mutilating their own bodies, we might feel sad, upset, confused, or even angry. However, to find solutions and help our kids, we have to look at what drives the behaviors less than the behaviors themselves.
While withholding a strong reaction can be difficult, our child is likely engaging in these behaviors due to underlying issues. SIBs are common in individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD); however, other conditions like depression, anxiety, and trauma might be driving SIBs. Kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are also likely to engage in SIBs to regulate their emotions, and kids identifying in the LGBTQ+ community might be at risk of self-harm.
Replacing SIBs with Healthy Coping Skills
If kids are engaging in SIBs, seeking professional help is essential to address underlying concerns. Kids can learn healthy means of coping with stress, self-esteem issues, depression, trauma flashbacks, and other issues during therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
Coping skills can replace SIBs, depending upon the need fulfilled by the SIB. As parents, we need to be mindful of looking at the need that the SIBs is fulfilling. Maladaptive coping skills take hold in kids because, while ultimately detrimental, they “work” in the moment to some extent. As kids learn new coping methods, they can start to deal with the issues going on below the surface.
These coping skills can address the emotional disturbances by helping kids express themselves through art, writing, or sharing with others. Due to the visceral experiences of SIBs, kids might need to find a way to replace this experience with a sensory component, such as self-massage, squeezing objects, or taking a cold shower.
Some common ways of replacing SIBs include:
- Journaling and writing
- Listening to music
- Drawing, painting, or other art activities (particularly things that allow for a “release” of intensity, like pressing a pen hard against paper or aggressively throwing paint onto a canvas)
- Talking to others about feelings
- Exercising, especially vigorous exercise, can help kids find the same “release”
- Squeezing stress balls, clay, or other soft objects
- Self-soothing activities, like rocking, hugging oneself, or using a weighted blanket
- Self-massage of the arms, neck, or legs
- Chewing a strong mint or an intensely sour candy
- Holding an ice cube in the hand or the elbow joint
- Ripping paper or magazines
- Hitting or screaming into a pillow
- Taking a cold shower
While SIBs might appear shocking and dangerous, they are often driven by issues that can be resolved. As parents, we need to be careful not to shame our kids for resorting to these actions to manage intense emotions. Our kids most likely already feel shame and guilt over these actions; however, they might not know any better ways of coping with their inner turmoil.
People dealing with intense and powerful emotions might resort to self-injurious behaviors (SIBs), like cutting, swallowing inedibles, ripping skin, burning oneself, or other means of harming the body. Parents might feel shocked and upset when seeing evidence of these behaviors. Our emotions in this moment are valid; however, we need to be mindful of how our kids perceive our reactions. They most likely feel ashamed about their SIBs, often finding ways to keep their scars or other evidence of self-harm hidden from others. Kids engaging in SIBs are likely struggling with underlying issues that are treatable by professional interventions and support. With support and guidance, kids can learn healthy means of coping with stress, self-esteem, and other issues. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help kids dealing with underlying problems, like trauma, depression, and anxiety. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help you get your kid back.