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What is self-harm: Self-harm is when a person inflicts any kind of pain or injury upon oneself – whether physical, emotional or psychological.  Although self-harm can be anything from having persistent negative thoughts about the way one looks, hitting oneself, binging then purging – of late self-harm has almost become synonymous with self-mutilation or cutting. The DSM classifies self-harm as non-suicidal-self-injury or NSSI.

Cutting is one of the many forms of self-harm. People who cut are known to target their obliques, arms and legs.  Cutting is difficult for many people to understand but for kids, self-harm helps them control their emotional pain. Self-harm falls in line with eating disorders in being stereotyped as an issue for women and young girls everywhere but the truth of the matter is that just as eating disorders are as much of an issue for boys and young men, so is self-harm.

Girls do use self-harm, more than boys, as a coping mechanism. There is no known scientific reason as to why girls self-harm more than boys but it is suggested that gender-role expectations have a lot to do with it. Typically girls are taught to be more emotional but to internalize their feelings as opposed to acting out on it in anger. Boys on the opposite end are encouraged to be more “macho” and aggressive in their expression of their emotions.

Girls are also taught socially to keep their thoughts about who they are in line with their looks, since so much of their value and self-worth in the relationship marketplace resides in their looks. Being a girl, of any age, in today’s society means living up to expectations of commercialized feminism.  The stereotype of women include being thin, pretty, and fit but not too muscular. For girls who can’t relate to that image frequently experience anxiety, depression, and feelings of failure. This focus on their bodies leads women to think that if they can control their bodies, they can control their happiness. Injuring or using self-harm on their bodies gives them a feeling of control over their emotions. This is the same thing that leads many girls to have eating disorders.

Girls do not face this challenge alone. Boys also fight self-harm.

Boys are usually taught to outwardly express their emotions. They see male role models turning their negative feelings and frustration into anger by yelling at people, punching walls, and getting into fights. So when faced with the same feelings of emotional turmoil that girls are, which is what leads most people to self-harm, boys find themselves either taking it out on others or on themselves. Boys cut themselves just like girls do.

The amount of male self-injurers is growing. Adolescent boys who live with their middle class families are finding self-harm in greater numbers because they are seeing other boys doing it, and self-harm is extremely contagious. This includes boys who use self-harm because they have serious psychological problems as well as those who do because of the typical stresses and strains of growing up or dealing with romantic relationships and just life in general.  Boys are also self-harming more as an expression of who they are and what they like, from their desire to experiment and be rebellious, and by the fact that they gain peer status through their ability to withstand pain.

Some other differences in self-harm with boys and girls are:

  • Girls tend to make smaller cuts in hidden places with sharp implements (such as exacto blades, straight-edge blades, and broken razor cartridges) and to hide their behavior.
  • Boys are more inclined to make larger, deeper cuts and burns on their chests, their upper arms and more noticeable locations with rough, serrated knives or rusty nails and to be open about their injuries.

Either way self-harm is self-harm and in today’s youth self-harm is becoming a more and more pressing issue and if the behavior can’t be controlled then outside help may be needed. It is good that more information has come out about self-harm and that it is not something that just girls are dealing with. Because when it comes to self-harm: boys do it too.

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