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What Parents Need to Know About Cutting
Great Read for Parents and Kids
Cutting, also known as self-injury or self-mutilation is the practice of manipulating a mood or emotional state by inflicting physical harm on a person's own body. Many people who do this will cut themselves, but they may also burn, scratch, bite, or hit themselves - particularly banging the head. It's a form of communicating feelings the person cannot express and it is distinctly different from self inflicted pain derived from sexual acts or spiritual ritual. It is not associated with body piercing or tattooing.
It's important to note that self-injury is rarely life threatening. However, because of the revulsion many people feel about it, some health care providers have an appropriate response. That said, it doesn't matter how severe or minor the physical injuries are. It's what's going on inside that matters.
What is the Payoff of Cutting?
Self-injury releases tension - both physiological and psychological - very quickly. A person who cuts can turn a state of overwhelm into a state of relative calm almost immediately. Cutting reduces panic to simply feeling bad.
It is a destructive coping skill like many others in our society - drinking, anorexia, or working too much. It does not mean the person is crazy, or that they are attempting suicide. In fact, the self-injury may relieve tension to the point that the person no longer considers suicide.
Why Do Kids Cut Themselves?
One common denominator in kids who cut themselves is an inability to express their feelings. They either never learned how to do it or were invalidated when they tried. They have gotten the idea, possibly from an abusive home life though not always, that certain feelings are wrong and not to be articulated. They may have not had a role model for coping with troubling situations in a healthy way.
Cutting also gives the child a great sense of control. Some kids do it as a form of self-punishment, but this isn't always the case. Many cutters use it to express feelings that there are no words for.
Some kids are predisposed toward this kind of behavior and it may take very little to set it off. Serotonin may be involved in making some kids more aggressive and impulsive than others, therefore more likely to self-mutilate. Once a kid tries the behavior and realizes the immense stress relief it provides, it may seem like a good idea for the next time the child is under stress.
Cutting is not done, as frequently believed, to "fit in" or to garner attention. Many teens will go to great lengths to hide the effects of the behavior in an attempt to avoid adding shame to their already fragile mental state.
Help For Kids Who Cut
Although parents may not be able to prevent cutting, maintaining open communication should always be a goal. Parents should make sure they're not the ones doing all the talking and be careful not to try to solve all the child's problems. Sometimes parents just need to listen so that children know it's okay to speak the things that weigh on their hearts.
Like with other addictions, a kid cannot be forced not to cut himself. He needs to be ready to accept help and do the work it takes to change the behavior. Do not issue ultimatums or punish the self-destructive behavior. Threatening to hospitalize or institutionalize a self-injurer can make feelings of lack of control and overwhelm even worse.
Once the child is ready to stop, there are many therapeutic techniques employed by mental health professionals to help him. It's best to consult a professional with specific experience working with kids who self-mutilate. There may be underlying serious mental conditions that need to be diagnosed.
This is a serious matter and not just a fad. If you suspect your child is cutting, seek help right away. And as with all things teenager - keep up the conversation as much as you can to try and prevent this tragic behavior.
One Girl's Experience: