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Understanding Teen Cutting

How should I respond to my adolescent daughter's cutting habit? I only recently discovered that she's been cutting herself. I've tried to let her know much this concerns me. I've even requested that she let me "monitor" the situation. But she is very sensitive and perceives this as criticism and lack of trust. I promised I wouldn't pry anymore, but I did ask her to talk to me whenever she feels compelled to cut herself. Do you think we can work this out between ourselves? Or is that a naive assumption?

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With all due respect, yes. We do think it’s a naïve assumption. Cutting is a serious problem. It usually has deep and complicated underlying causes. Instead of promising not to “pry,” you should insist that your daughter get professional help. It would probably be best if that help took the form of counseling that involves the entire family. If you need referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area, Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department can provide them.

Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to equip yourself with at least a basic understanding of cutting so that you can. have some idea of what’s going on in your daughter’s mind. It’s difficult to grasp exactly what motivates a person to become involved in this kind of self-abuse. It seems to be a response to overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression. Cutters basically want control. If a teen is being abused or hurt by someone else, cutting may represent an attempt to “release” her pain through bleeding. She may also be trying to “drown it out” by incurring even more intense suffering upon herself. In other cases, she may be so “numb” that she’s desperate to feel something. Cutting can also be a way of expressing anger – by taking it out on oneself rather than running the risk of exposing it to others.

In every instance, cutting is a coping mechanism. It’s a method of managing pain. The cutter can’t be set free from this self-destructive habit until she finds a way to replace the cutting with a healthy coping mechanism. That’s not to mention that cutting can be addictive. This is due to the endorphin rush that normally accompanies the body’s self-healing response to wounds.

Precisely because it is a coping mechanism, it would be a mistake to interpret cutting as a suicide attempt. The cutter isn’t trying to kill herself. On the contrary, she’s groping for a way to get through life. But it’s crucial to realize that, whatever her intentions, cutting can sometimes prove fatal. It’s always possible that kids will accidentally cut themselves too deeply and run the risk of bleeding to death. That’s why professional assistance is so critical in a situation like the one you’re facing.

This explains why you need to ask your daughter lots of questions. Try to find out how deeply she’s cutting herself. See if you can discern her motivation for engaging in this kind of behavior. Is she a serious cutter who wounds herself in concealed areas of her body and tries to cover it up? Or is she just a “wannabe” who displays superficial scratches on her arms and legs as a way of getting attention? If she falls into the latter category, exactly why does she crave attention? How can you help supply that need in a healthy way? These are the basic issues that you and your counselor need to get hold of if you want to help your daughter overcome her cutting problem.

If you’d like to discuss this situation at greater length, call our Counseling department for a free consultation.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut: Learning to Understand and Help Those Who Self-Injure

Inside a Cutter’s Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure

Boundaries With Teens

A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression

Is Your Teen Stressed or Depressed?

Referrals
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self Abuse Finally Ends)

FindingBalance.com

Articles
Cutting and Self-Injury

Confessions of a Cutter

Your Teen Needs You

Loving Your Teen Through Life’s Seasons

Depression

Copyright © 2011, Focus on the Family.

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