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Teens, Cutting and the Self-Mutilation Epidemic

For the most part, she's like any other teenage kid. Sometimes brash, sometimes sweet; sometimes mature, sometimes childlike; sometimes carefree, sometimes melancholy. It's those melancholy times that set her apart. She carves her pain into her arms with a razor blade, or burns it into her flesh with a lighter.

For the most part, she's like any other teenage kid. Sometimes brash, sometimes sweet; sometimes mature, sometimes childlike; sometimes carefree, sometimes melancholy. It's those melancholy times that set her apart. She carves her pain into her arms with a razor blade, or burns it into her flesh with a lighter.

She's not alone.  As its publicity grows through movies, TV shows, books and music, so do the number of teens (and preteens) who try it.  CNN now reports that 1 in 5 teens have intentionally harmed themselves at least once. Many try it initially because it's trendy (especially in goth and emo subcultures), but move on.

A portion continue the behavior as stress management or punishment or because of the addictive high they get. 

Most of the habitual self-injurers are girls. Many of them are high achievers, have eating disorders, and/or have been abused. Most feel high levels of pressure, stress or expectations. The most prevalent self-mutilation is cutting, but behaviors like burning, choking, and throwing oneself down stairs aren't uncommon. Though violent, self-injury is not a suicide attempt.

Some resources: 

www.selfinjury.com

www.twloha.com/

www.bibri.com/selfinjuryifo/sivaltn.htm

www.crisislink.org/resources/links.html

Unfortunately, because awareness of the behavior is so new, medical and mental health professionals often don't know what to do with these patients. Parents bring their kids to a professional for hope, but end up even more discouraged when that expert tells them she or he can't help their child. Think of it as the early days of AIDS. Most doctors were as confused as anyone else. It's the same here. Most organizations specializing in cutting, self-injury and self-mutilation are created by laypeople directly affected by the problem. The medical community has pockets of advancement, but they're slow in coming. 

Behavior to watch for includes trouble dealing with stress, has an eating disorder, covers their arms or legs in all weather (wearing long-sleeved shirts, wide bracelets or sweatbands on their wrists, avoids swimming, etc) and explains away injuries. 

If someone you know is a self-injurer, getting specialized help quickly is key. Find experts who deal specifically with this problem. They may need to be removed from people and media that encourage the behavior. They will also need your prayer support, unconditional love and a shame-free safe environment. For most habitual self-injurers, the problem won't go away on it's own. Our kids are under attack, and they need people to stand up and rescue them. 

 

Laura Singleton’s passion is the transformation that happens when women get access to God’s Word and God’s Word gets access to women. She was twenty-five when her life was turned upside down by an encounter with Jesus Christ. With an insatiable thirst for scripture and theology, she soon headed to Dallas Theological Seminary to learn more about Jesus, and left with a Th.M. with an emphasis in Media Arts. She, along with two friends from DTS, travel the nation filming the independent documentary Looking for God in America. She loves speaking and teaching and is the author of Insight for Living Ministry’s Meeting God in Familiar Places and hundreds of ads, which pay the bills. Her big strong hubby Paul is a former combat medic, which is handy since Laura’s almost died twice already. She loves photography, travel and her two pugs.

5 Comments

  • Sydney

    cutting and status of the mind
    cutters are usually not crazy. they do it to make something to focus on so they can let all the physical and mental pain go away. it may seem strange but I DON`T CARE WHAT YOU SAY!

    • Laura Singleton

      Cutters aren’t crazy

      Hi Sydney,

      You’re absolutely right–cutters aren’t crazy. I have a young friend whose arms are covered in scars and fresh wounds. I
      don’t think she’s crazy. I think she’s hurting, and needs support. Most cutters are just dealing with their emotional pain as best they know how. The heartbreaking thing is that it may provide short-term relief, but at the price of long-term damage that can be severe. Sadly, it’s so new that many parents, teachers and medical professionals don’t know when or how to help, and that’s why I posted this entry.

      • Mary Ann

        Parent of a teen who cuts

        Hi my 16 year old daughter cuts herself. She is seeing a therapist. At times I am not sure if I am helping her or making matters worse. I actually said to her last night I know what you are going to do, just do it I don't know how to stop you. This morning I saw the marks on her wrist what have I done. I can't believe those words came out of my mouth. I have read several books and have been trying to do what they say. I know this is about her and not me but I can't help but feel lost. I love her so much and want to help her it hurts constantly.

        • Laura Singleton

          To a Mother of a Cutter

          Oh, Mary Ann, my heart aches for you–I cannot imagine the heavy burden you carry. It sounds like those words came from a mother who loves her daughter, but is exhausted and disheartened by the painful situation. Please know that God's grace covers even the mistakes we most regret. I'm so glad your daughter is getting help–perhaps you'd be refreshed and encouraged by good Christian counsel as well. Support groups, Christian counselors, prayer warriors, and informative organizations can equip you, help you know you're not alone and remind you that God is bigger than this. I pray for healing, peace and grace in your family. May God bring beauty from ashes and even allow you to comfort others with the comfort he shows you.

  • Lisa Bishop

    I had to comment on

    I had to comment on this.

    I SI. I have been doing so for 11 years. I will be 25 this April. I have gone nearly 4 months without cutting, something I am proud of.

    I wanted to clear up a few things. First off, cutting isn't "trendy" amongst emos or goths… That is a very common misconception. Most cutters started because of an internal pain that we feel we can't express otherwise. I was physically and sexually abused as a child and told to keep quiet. My scars tell my story of years of emotional turmoil and was my way of coping.

    Also, this behavior isn't new. Read "Girl, Interrupted". The author talks about self harming in her teens during the 1960's. Steven Lavenkron has written a great book about SI, talking about patients from the 80's. In the past, it was seen as a part of psychosis instead of a harmful, yet effective, form of coping.

    Other then that, great article. I would like to add another site to your list:  http://www.selfinjury.net

    This site has helped me in the past. I recomend it to your friend as well. You can post poetry, stories, and artwork.

    To Mary Ann: As a cutter, one thing that would help me is knowing that someone is listening. Guilt trips, threats, and bribes don't work. They typically ,ake the behavior worse. I think that the4 best thing you can do is offer an ear. There is obviously something troubling her. Pray for patience and guidance. I will keep her in my thoughts.