When thirteen-year-old Mia came out of the bathroom in her father’s new house, she was shocked to see a guy from her school.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” he said.
Mia was trembling—this boy had bullied her at school. She discovered that he was the son of her father’s new girlfriend. The girlfriend had just moved into in their home following the divorce of Mia’s parents, and so had her son. Mia’s father didn’t seem to understand her concern, but when Mia talked to her mother, she said her daughter could live with her and her new husband, Luis. But Luis was having none of it. He refused to let Mia move in.
So the young teen found herself living in an environment that felt unsafe. Because of that, she felt only hatred toward her stepfather. To deal with this emotional turmoil, Mia started cutting herself. Eventually, Mia ended up talking to a therapist.
“I cut myself so I can show my mom how much I hate my stepfather and how much he’s hurt me,” she told the counselor. “It makes me feel better when I cut, because it’s like the pain he’s left inside of me leaves my body when I bleed.”
Self-injury has been practiced throughout history, dating all the way back to ancient Greece. Today, however, teens can take a video as they injure themselves and share it on the internet with anyone who wants to watch it. Teens who do this have an audience, sympathy, and an immediate response. In fact, an entire subculture of cutting flourishes on the internet, with websites dedicated to providing guidance on how to cut “safely” and how not to get caught. Social media has a steady stream of posts that tout its attractiveness, benefits, and relief.
Self-injury isn’t a fringe phenomenon, unfortunately. About two million cases of cutting are reported each year (with many more cases unreported). Roughly one in five females and one in seven males injure themselves. When asked, most high-school and middle-school students will tell you they know someone who’s cutting.
It can be addictive—there’s growing evidence that opioids are released into the nervous system in response to self-injury. These opioids can also serve as a pain reducer when a teen self-injures.