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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Teen

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

As a teacher I have encountered a lot of youth who are into body piercing. I am concerned that this behavior is self-destructive, however the youths I have spoken with about this say it is a method of self expression. What do you think?

Answer

The short answer is probably some of both. There are no doubt some youth who are tattooing and piercing themselves as a means of self destruction, but that does not mean that all of them are. As with other fads, you have several categories of partakers.

We usually see subgroups within the population as a whole, regardless of which quasi-self-destructive behaviors they are engaging in. Many are hard core youth who have emotional problems and choose to engage in outrageous behavior for numerous reasons, but are generally in a lot of emotional pain and act in a self-destructive manner much of the time.

Others are toying with different personas as part of their quest to develop their own unique personality, the primary task of adolescence and young adulthood for many. Some are going along with the crowd to be noticed, accepted or send a message to adults. These are usually the kids that don't fit into the socially acceptable peer groups.

Many are artsy kids who dress, style their hair and otherwise present themselves in unusual manners as a means of self expression. Most of these kids are from middle-class and upper-middle-class families and have not found their niche in life through traditional, socially acceptable groups such as sports, cheer leading or academics. Many are highly intelligent, which complicates matters even more. A lot of them are rebelling against the standards society has established as norms, and spend a lot of energy being different.

It is too simplistic to write all of these kids off to being emotionally disturbed, rebellious, having behavioral problems or otherwise impaired. They are far too complex to be labeled in that manner. The tendency toward creativity and artistic expression is often misunderstood and these kids are too frequently labeled as abnormal. Usually, they require more energy than most adults have or are willing to spend with them to get to know and understand them as individuals. They don't fit and are not interested in traditional avenues established by the mainstream many times. Their efforts to fit into those groups often lead to rejection, and most learned that in elementary school. Their behavior, or misbehavior, is usually their way of trying to get their needs met. The need for belonging, acceptance and esteem will come from somewhere, and if the mainstream does not offer it some other group will. That is how gangs and cults succeed, they accept those who are not acceptable to other groups and meet that individual's emotional needs . . . the same needs we all have.

For those who are emotionally disturbed and experiencing psychic pain, these behaviors may be self-destructive. Those youth are usually looking for a way to numb their pain, and physical pain is a relief in comparison. Youth who live with chronic psychological pain talk about self-mutilation as providing a release of that pain, if only temporarily. Somehow in their minds at the moment of contact with their flesh the blade, needle or other object that pierces the skin allows some of that pain to ooze from their body. Granted that may not seem rational to most of us, but to those who are hurting in ways we may never know, it makes perfect sense.

That's my soapbox for today!

3/12/98

LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
Author of Growing up Sane (in uncertain times)
Seminar Leader Growing Well Adjusted Kids
Editor-in-Cheif Person to Person: Strengthening Youth & Families
Telephone Counselor Affinity Counseling Center
Affinity Books & Resource Center: Your Source for Emotional Wellness

 

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