QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
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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?
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
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!
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