Cutting: What Parents Need to Know

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Cutting among teenagers is on the rise. According to the website TeenHelp.com," treatment for teens who self injure have doubled over the past three years and those numbers are expected to grow..." [1] HelpGuide.org indicates that approximately 2 million people in the United States participate in self-injury. [2]

     

    What is Cutting?

     

    Cutting is described as the act of inflicting injury on oneself through cutting in order to relieve stress. In addition to cutting, some teens may scratch, burn, or bite themselves. Cutting is not considered to be a warning of suicide; instead it is considered a way to cope with problems. Cutting can be dangerous, however, as the injuries are sometimes life-threatening. In addition, most people that engage in cutting are ashamed of their behavior and this shame can lead to depression.

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     Who Engages in Self-Cutting

     

    Cutting is usually a symptom of underlying problems and is closely linked to anxiety. TeenHelp.com describes the typical cutter as:

    • Female
    • Age between mid-twenties to early thirties
    • Has been cutting since being a teen
    • Intelligent
    • Middle or upper class
    • Well educated
    • Possible physical or sexual abuse as a child
    • Possibly had at least one alcoholic parent

    Anyone, however, can self injure. It has more to do with the lack of coping skills and the inability to work through conflict.  Anger and frustration may have been seen as "bad" emotions throughout their childhood, leaving them with guilt for these emotions.

     

    Why People Cut

     

    Some theories on why people cut themselves include the idea the physical pain will replace the emotional pain or that the physical injuries in some way prove the emotional pain is real.

     

    Those who cut themselves indicate that it gives them a sense of control at times when stress is overwhelming. Or that the feeling of pain helps to calm the emotional turmoil. Others may cut in order to forget about the emotional pain, at least for a little while.

     

    In cases where either physical or emotional abuse has occurred in the past, self-injury may be a way of "paying for past mistakes." The person may feel guilty or feel he or she is to blame for the abuse and that they deserve the punishment.

     

    When someone cuts themselves, even accidently, endorphins are released as the body as the natural pain reliever. It is this feeling that the cutter craves.

    Cutting may be a symptom of an underlying condition. Some common co-existing conditions include:

    In order for treatment to be effective, the underlying condition must be addressed.

     

    The Dangers of Cutting

     

    Although cutting is rarely an attempt at suicide, people who cut are more likely to commit suicide later. The Adolescent Counseling Service indicates that teens who cut are 75 times more likely to commit suicide than those that do not cut themselves.  [3]

     

    In addition, cutting can cause serious injury and can unintentionally cause death.

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    Cutting can become a habit and can be addictive. The person cutting often is unable to stop, without help. The cutting increases in both intensity and frequency.

     

    Cutting can cause guilt, with the person going to great lengths to cover it up. Feelings of shame only fuel the desire to cut.

     

    Warning Signs

     

    The following are some signs to be on the lookout for.

    • The most obvious sign would be seeing a great deal of scars, especially on the inside of the arm or on the thigh. However, most people that cut will use different methods to hide the scars.
    • Long sleeved shirts or pants, even in warm weather may be a sign the person is trying to hide something. Wrist bands also are used to hide the scars on wrist and sometimes girls will wear many bracelets.
    • Being withdrawn or secretive can signal there is some problem going on. If someone has withdrawn from family, spending time alone in their room rather than interacting with family and friends, it may be a sign of depression or self-injury.
    • Other signs of depression may also be present. Be on the lookout for rapidly changing moods or a decreased desire to participate in activities that the person once enjoyed.
    • Avoiding situations that would require them to show certain parts of their body or undressing in public, such as swimming, gym class, and sports activities.
    • Disappearing first aid supplies, such as band-aids or disinfectants.
    • Finding sharp objects, such as a piece of broken glass or knives in places they shouldn't be. For example, you may find a razor in their room instead of in the bathroom.

    Tips if You Know Someone That is Self-Injuring

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    It is very difficult for anyone to discover that someone is intentionally harming themselves. Parents often have a hard time accepting this is happening to their child and may blame themselves. This, however, is not the best approach. Instead parents can:

    • Learn about self-injuring behaviors and understand the person is experiencing severe emotional pain and needs your support and understanding.
    • Be available to talk and to listen, without judging the person.
    • Encourage them to express their anger and frustration, letting them know you will not judge him or her.
    • Seek professional help, a counselor or therapist can be helpful in working on self-esteem issues, teaching coping strategies and evaluating for any depression, anxiety or other emotional disorders.
    • Let him or her know this doesn't make them a "bad" person.
    • Accept setbacks as just that, a setback and continue treatment.
    • Help to identify trigger and developing strategies to cope with stressful situations.
    • It is sometimes helpful to involve the entire family in therapy, working on family dynamics and communication as well as looking at different ways the family can offer non-judgmental support.

    If you are self-injuring yourself, reach out to someone you can trust, this can be a friend, a parent or a teacher. This may be the most difficult thing you do, but there is help and reaching out is the first step.

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    References:

    [2] "Cutting and Self-Injury", Modified 2008, Feb,  Deborah Cutter, Psy.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D.,  Jeanne Segal Ph.D., HelpGuide.org

    [1] "Cutting Statistics and Self-Injury Treatment", 2010, Author Unknown, TeenHelp

    [3] "Do You Think Your Teen is Cutting? You're Not Alone", Date Unknown, Lindsay Huton, FamilyEducation.com

     

Published On: April 20, 2010