Therapy That Works...

Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

Cutting Teens - Jun 11, 2006

Cutting Teens

June 11, 2006

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

A new study from the American Psychological Association reports a disturbing new trend among American teens called self mutilation. According to the study, nearly twenty percent of teens may engage in this behavior and Internet message boards may be one reason for this dramatic increase. Here to tell us more is psychologist Dr. Sylvia Gearing

Q: What is this new trend, self mutilation, all about?

Dr. Sylvia: This disorder refers to various self injurious behaviors such as cutting, carving, hitting, biting, scratching and burning. It is a deliberate behavior intended to inflict pain on the body to relieve a painful or uncomfortable feeling. This is a coping mechanism and it is used to escape a painful feeling and to focus on physical pain instead. This type of self abuse seems to serve several purposes---to relieve severe anxiety, extreme anger and frustration or to cry for help. Whatever the motivation, the self punishment aspect of this behavior is profound.

Q: Is this an increasing trend?

Dr. Sylvia: The results of the survey were gathered at Cornell and Princeton and suggested that this damaging behavior is found in nearly 1 out of every 5 students at these schools. We think that approximately 20% of teens now self inflict pain.

Q: Why is self mutilation increasing now?

Dr. Sylvia: Self mutilation follows the patterns of social contagion, in which behavior spreads like an epidemic. In the past, entire communities have experienced increased suicide and drug abuse in an epidemic like fashion. I believe self mutilation is a symptom of a high performance generation of kids who have well meaning parents who emphasized performance over psychological resiliency. When placed in a competitive academic environment, they turn to self mutilation as a method of soothing their overwhelming anxiety. They are simply not coping.

Q: What were the findings of the study?

Dr. Sylvia: They found several key facts:

Seventeen Percent Self Mutilate: Seventeen percent of the almost 3000 teens surveyed had purposely injured themselves. Seventy percent had done so multiple times. A British study found a 65% increase in the last two years.

Endorphin Rush: When inflicting harm, the "rush" that is associated with the pain releases endorphins. These hormones are powerful and can be highly rewarding and addictive.

Addictive Quality: Self injurious behaviors can assume epidemic like patterns among like minded teens. Self mutilation has now become fashionable and is spreading like a raging fire among kids that are successful and performing well.

Internet is Central: There are over 400 message boards devoted to self mutilation. Online, message boards have proliferated over the last five years and provide a private forum for this negativity to grow. They cross list self mutilation with other self destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, depression and even suicide.

Q: Why is the Internet such a convenient forum for this behavior?

Dr. Sylvia: Teens who feel alienated from their peers will often turn to the Internet for comfort. Most of these kids are young and fall between the ages of 14 and 20. They do not contact people they know but instead turn to new relationships with virtual strangers. With over 400 message boards devoted just to self mutilation, there are plenty of peers to choose from. They are trying to compensate for their lack of "real time" peers in their everyday lives.

Q: So the Internet can actually be reinforcing of this negative behavior?

Dr. Sylvia: These message boards normalize aberrant behavior. It is also potentially secretive and most self mutilation is clandestine. Teens can either actively or passively participate in chat rooms or message boards. These forums are instructive and teach them how to harm themselves. The study noted that casual, personal and informative facts are shared as the teens discuss the addictive qualities of self mutilation, their fears related to being discovered, and experiences with therapists.

Q: If parents are concerned, what can they do to help their children?

Dr. Sylvia:

Professional Evaluation: The worst thing you can do is nothing. Talk to your teen and require that they see a mental health professional for an evaluation. Oftentimes, self mutilation can be a smokescreen for a more serious disorder, such as major depression or bipolar disorder.

Stress Management: Most importantly, insist that your child learn to self soothe. They must learn other ways to handle whatever pain and disappointment they encounter. Teach them that they choose their reaction and they are not a victim of others or of circumstances.

Always Monitor: Addictive behaviors increase in secrecy. Stay on top of your child's behavior and restrict Internet freedom. Supervise isolated time and remain vigilant.