While the media portrays (and even glorifies) cautionary tales about drug abuse and alcohol addiction, not much is said about the act of self-harm or self-cutting. Currently, it seems to be the least “cool” addiction in popular culture.
This is unfortunate because while we can still come to terms with depression, anxiety disorders, and various addictions, self-injury is one of the more extreme behaviors associated with mental illness that people find hard to fathom. This needs to be fixed, since the less we talk about it, the more difficult it becomes to help someone who is injuring himself.
Before we address what self-harm through cutting is and the purpose behind it all, let’s try to understand why this is one of the lesser talked about issues.
What Makes Self-Harm So Difficult To Understand?
Imagine being confronted with someone you care about, bleeding from self-inflicted wounds or covered with frightening scars. Such acts of self-harm are often so gory and horrifying, it is natural to panic. These feelings of panic are often responsible for clouding our judgment, making it difficult to understand the person’s motive behind self-injury.
What makes understanding the act of self-harm and cutting further complicated, is the fact that it often looks like a suicide attempt, and it would make so much more sense to us if that was really the case. Unfortunately, self-harm is not even remotely related to suicidal tendencies, and things become even more difficult to comprehend when a self-injurious person denies he is trying to kill himself.
It is obvious that in order to help anyone with a particular disorder or addiction, understanding the victim’s motives is absolutely essential. So let’s break down what self-harm is, and the various ways in which it manifests itself, one of which is self-cutting.
Why People Self-Injure And Cut Themselves
Self-injury is really a coping mechanism used to be in control of emotions. Self-injurious people often turn to harming themselves physically in order to bring down negative emotions, and as they proceed to injure themselves, they find themselves entering into a positive emotional state – almost like a sort of a rush or a high. This is because the body, when injured, releases endorphins or “feel-good” hormones which give us a sudden rush of energy to help cope with the pain. For this reason, it is highly possible for self-harming to eventually become an unhealthy addiction.
On the other hand, some people may do it to just feel something, because they are so sick of feeling nothing at all. Then there are those who do it as a form of punishment. Many people, especially teenagers, find themselves filled with a sense of self-loathing and worthlessness. They feel as if they’re not deserving of anything good, so they hurt themselves as a way of self-validation.
Self-harm manifests itself in different ways in different people. Methods may include picking, opening or scratching wounds, burning, biting, hitting, pulling out hair.
Of all these methods, cutting is the most common way a person injured himself. People can use all sorts of instruments to cut themselves – from knives and scissors to car keys and pins. This is why it becomes even more frustrating to help a self-injurious person, as it is practically impossible to keep track of every sharp object in the house. And even if you were successful in getting rid of potential self-harm instruments, you still can’t take away a person’s fingernails.
How To Tell If Someone Is Cutting Himself
There are a whole lot signs that should tell you something is amiss. For instance, spending unusually long hours in the bathroom or clothing that isn’t befitting the season such as wearing long sleeved tops, scarves, and long trousers on a hot day. Finding sharp objects in odd places such as a discarded razor in the bin, pocket knives in the bathroom cabinet, or a pair of scissors under the pillow are also likely signs that you have a self-injurious person in your immediate vicinity.
Since self-harm through cutting is more common amongst adolescents, parents need to be even more cautious, for children are very clever in keeping secrets from their elders. They can come up with all sorts of ingenious excuses upon confrontation such as blaming the scratches on their friend’s cat or falling down during playtime at school. And while such excuses may indeed seem very believable, if you as a parent notice a pattern in these excuses, chances are your child is lying to you.
It is helpful to note that children who have a history of being bullied are more at risk of self-injury and cutting themselves. Also, while eating disorders are not a form of self-harm, adolescents who harm themselves or cut themselves usually display problems with food.
How To Help
When you discover a family member, a friend, or your child cutting themselves – remember it is a clue that the victim is struggling with emotions. Therefore, if you want to help, it is essential that you stay in control of your emotions before you confront the person in question.
- Stay calm: Getting agitated will further cloud your sense of reason and may cause the victim to shut down completely. If you notice mysterious bruises, scars, and wounds, or observe clothing that’s peculiar for the weather, ask in a very straightforward manner whether or not the person is injuring himself. Tell the person you’re concerned, and offer to listen without any judgment.
- Be open to conversation: People, especially children who injure themselves will refrain from confiding in people who can help them because they’re worried they will be judged. Furthermore, the victim will always feel a sense of fear of being labeled as an untrustworthy person or being the added cause of stress. So if you want to genuinely help, always be willing to talk or initiate a conversation, even if you’re feeling stressed or disappointed.
- Share your feelings: It would be helpful to be open about how you as a parent or a friend feel about the victim cutting himself. It is also absolutely alright to be honest about how you feel about the situation – for instance being unable to understand how to help the person. Since the victim is also someone who is emotionally overwhelmed, the two of you can work through your emotions together.
- Ignore the problem: We have already established that self-injury and cutting can be a difficult subject to talk about. However, ignoring the problem will only make things worse. Parents, especially, may think their children are doing it to get attention, and may often take a stance where they deliberately deny their children that attention. This would be a completely wrong approach to take, and may further damage your child.
- Focus on the act itself: Harping on the act of cutting is not going to solve anything for the victim, or make matters any better for you. Remember that it’s the behavior that’s driving the act that’s the root of the problem. So focus on trying to understand why the victim is cutting himself, rather than being obsessed with stopping the behavior altogether.
When To Seek Help
People who cut themselves don’t usually need to be hospitalized for self-injury unless they’re suicidal by nature or the self-injury is so severe that it’s dangerous to their life. While people who self-injure face a higher risk of suicide, it is important to remember that at the time of self-injury, the victim’s motive was simply to cope with his emotions, not take his life.
Seeking help from a licensed professional such as a counselor, or a child psychiatrist could be of great help. Depending on whether the victim has anxiety or depression, therapy or medication may be recommended. Treatment differs from person to person. But here’s the good news: if the problem has been recognized and the victim accepts that he needs help, that’s half the battle already won, and the road to recovery isn’t going to be very long.