My daughter cut herself for the first time when she was 12 years old. Today, 11 years later, she is still struggling to overcome this problem. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about “self-harm” and it scared me to death. I was shocked and bewildered that she would do such a thing. It’s important to understand cutting – what it is, who does it, why people do it, and how to get help for you or a friend to stop hurting inside and out.
What is cutting?
Cutting is when someone takes something sharp, like a razor, knife, scissors, or piece of glass, and runs it along a part of their body, usually to the point of bleeding or bruising. Most cuts are made on arms, wrists, and legs. Sometimes, people cut their chest, stomach, face, neck, breasts, or genitals. Cutting on the arms and wrists is the most common because it’s often easier to make up excuses for marks on these parts of the body, something like “My cat scratched me,” or “I had an accident in the kitchen.”
About two million people in the U.S. hurt themselves in some way.
Cutting is a form of self-injury, self-harm, or self-mutilation. Some people also call it slashing or slicing. Besides cutting, people may hurt themselves in other ways, including scratching, burning, picking at wounds, hair pulling, punching, or head butting. People cut to deal with difficult problems or feelings they cannot verbally express.
Who cuts and why?
About two million people in the U.S. hurt themselves in some way. Most are teenagers or young adults, and they’re from all races and backgrounds. They often wear clothing like long pants or shirts to hide their cutting, even in warm weather. For most people, it’s hard to understand why anyone would intentionally hurt themselves. But, for those who cut, there are a few common reasons:
- emotional pain they can’t put into words
- to gain a sense of control when other things in their life are out of control
- to punish themselves for troubling thoughts or acts
- some find the act soothing
- to get a reaction from other people
No matter the reason, cutting is a serious, dangerous behavior, and may be a sign of another problem. Many people who cut themselves also have an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. Some may be experiencing depression. Others may have been sexually or physically abused.
Is cutting a suicide attempt?
Usually, people who cut aren’t trying to kill themselves. At the same time, cutting can be life-threatening. In fact, sometimes, people can’t control the injury and die accidentally.
If you or someone you know is thinking about killing themselves, PLEASE READ THIS. Suicide is never the answer to your problems. You can also tell them about this site or visit it yourself: To Write Love on Her Arms. This nonprofit is about bringing awareness, hope, encouragement and community to those who struggle with self-harm, depression, and suicide (as well as addictions). They also raise money to help support programs that are addressing these issues. They gave away over a million dollars in 2009! My daughter’s story was the inspiration behind this global movement of love and hope. You can read her story here.
How can I help a friend with this?
If you have suspicions, go ahead and ask them about it. Friends with cutting problems are often glad to be able talk about it. If you bring it up and this person isn’t self-injuring, it won’t start just because you said something about it. If they leave their wounds uncovered so that you can see them, they want you to ask them about it. Offer options but don’t tell your friend what to do. If someone’s using cutting or some other kind of self-injury as a way to feel in control, it won’t help if you try to take control of the situation. Helping someone see ways to get help – like talking to a parent, pastor, teacher, school counselor, or mental health professional — may be the best thing you can do.
Educate yourself on the issue.
Two helpful websites for both the person who is struggling with cutting, as well as their family and friends are: selfinjury.com and selfmutilatorsanonymous.org. They even have online support group meetings. A few good books are:
- Inside a Cutter’s Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure by Jerusha Clark and Dr. Earl Henslin
- Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program For Self-Injurers by Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader, Ph.D.
- A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong. There are many others on Amazon.
Seek support for yourself, too.
Knowing a friend who is going through this can be frightening and stressful. Consider talking to someone else you trust. And remember, even if you don’t want to share your friend’s secret, you can still talk to a mental health professional about how it is affecting you. Remember, you’re not responsible for ending your friend’s self-abuse. You can’t force someone to stop or to get help from a professional. You can’t fix them or change them, but what you can do, always, is keep being a trustworthy, caring friend. Just asking about it and encouraging them to seek help shows them someone cares. It may be exactly what they need to take the next step.
How can I help myself?
Talk to someone you trust. Maybe it’s a parent or a good friend, a pastor, youth worker, or a school counselor. Tell them you’re cutting yourself, and want to stop. Ask them to help you find help. Know that you may get some tough reactions like denial or sadness or anger, but that will pass. If you’re not comfortable with that, contact a local mental health group or a hotline in your area. There is a lot of help available and this can be overcome.
Cutting isn’t something to deal with on your own. There are therapists and support groups who can help you work through what makes you cut. Even if you’re nervous about getting help, take this step, because NOW is the best time to do it. If you wait, the problem will only get bigger and harder to hide. You can stop cutting! My daughter says in her book, Purpose for the Pain, “I didn’t do this of my own accord, I am not that strong. God has carried me ... It was hard work getting to this point (in recovery 6 months) ... but it happened, and it can happen for anyone who wants it. This isn’t my story. This is God’s story of redemption ... how beautiful is that?”
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This article was written by: Dena YohePhoto Credit: Madeleine Burleson