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Self-Cutting: Why People Do It and How To Help Them?

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Self-cutting. I really don’t remember how exactly I got the idea to start doing it but I do remember the first time I tried it. My dad used to keep hospital scalpels in the house as an alternative to razor blades (He worked in a hospital). I grabbed one little packet, ripped open the wrapper, and out fell a shiny and very sharp blade. I took it to my room, closed the door, and slowly started carving lines into my arms.

Self-cutting is more common than we think.

For some of you, my story may seem weird and appalling, but it is actually pretty common. Back in the 7th grade, I thought I was the only “cool” kid cutting. However, statistics tell us that approximately one in five people have cut in the past or are currently doing so. One in five. That is huge. This problem plagues both teenagers and adults.

Statistics tell us that approximately one in five people have self-cut in the past or are currently doing so. One in five. That is huge. Share on X

For others of you, you understand self-cutting, you have done it, and are possibly ashamed of it. And some of you are parents of children who self-cut and are at a loss of what to do. I hope that through my story you will learn that there is no reason to be ashamed, but it is time to come out of the shadows and seek help.

How bad did my self-cutting get?

Every time I tried it, I became a little more emboldened. At the height of it, I was carving or scraping words into my legs. I scraped “Guns N’ Roses” just above my knee once. I was clearly their number one fan! Although I wish I had found other ways to express my enthusiasm.

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I have to say that in some ways it was thrilling and addicting. I wanted to see how far I could take it and how much pain I could withstand. It turns out, I could withstand a lot.

Did I try to hide it?

I was not ashamed of other kids at school seeing me. I actually enjoyed their reactions of awe and amazement that I had the guts to do something like this. However, I tried to hide my scars from most adults, especially those I respected. Deep down I knew that it was not a good thing to do.

Why did I do it?

I don’t think it was possible for me to verbalize it at thirteen. However, as I reflect on it now, there are clearly several reasons.

I was trying to numb my emotional pain.

I had an extremely difficult childhood that included sexual abuse. By the time I started self-cutting, I had already lived in several homes, in two different countries, was ushered between parents, step-parents, and grandparents. Alcoholism, poverty, rejection, and neglect where all part of my upbringing. (I have an awesome relationship with my parents now–you can read that story of restoration here).

It was the only avenue I had to express all of my feelings and emotions.

There were no youth groups to go to or people that I could trust and talk with openly. I had nobody that would want to take the time to really get to know me. Cutting was an outlet for me to express all that pain and frustration.

I was trying to attract the attention of my peers as a substitute for love.

I did not see myself as pretty. I was extremely shy and had difficulty making friends, and was for the most part, socially awkward. Self-cutting made me cool (at least I thought so) and a part of me finally felt admired and feared at the same time. Well, if I wasn’t going to be loved, I would settle for feared.

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Self-cutting was also a cry for help.

Even though I would do it in secret, I wanted my mom and dad to find out. I wanted them to see it and maybe, just maybe they would finally want to hear me, seek me out, and want to help me. Unfortunately for me, when my mom did find out, I did not get the reaction I so desperately wanted. I plunged further into depression and eventually became suicidal.

Reading articles about self-cutting, show me that my reasons for doing it where not unusual. My case is actually pretty text book.

Psychology Today lists four reasons why most people self-cut or self-harm.

  • Physical pain can take away the emotional pain.
  • Self-criticism.
  • It is a way to stop feeling numb.
  • It is an alternative outlet for emotional pain.

Related Article: Breaking Free: The Evolution of a Sexually Abused Child

How did I stop?

I certainly did not live in a nurturing environment where someone would have hired a therapist or counselor for me. Even if my parents had wanted to, though, we could not afford it. I stopped when I finally started feeling wanted, loved, and validated.

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My journey out of self-cutting began when my mom forced me to start going to a small house church when she herself was seeking a way out of her own pain. The pastor and his wife welcomed me and showed me a kindness I had not often experienced before. It became my second home. With time, I lost the urge to self-cut and I would come to understand my real value, my real worth, and just how much I was loved. This couple pointed me to the ONE that loved me in a way no one ever could.

If you are a parent of a self cutter….

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If you know your child is going through this, my first piece of advice is to not accuse a child of trying to get attention. Nothing could be more hurtful and damaging to their emotional well being. What I do recommend is the following:

  • Don’t panic. Most self-cutters are not suicidal. And although self-cutting may be an underlying cause for other mental disorders, many times it is just an outlet of unhealthy expression.
  • Give your child the time and place to express their feelings and emotions without judgement or criticism.
  • Let them know they are loved, both in what you do and what you say. If you don’t know how to do that, just ask them, “What can I do for you that will make you feel loved?”
  • Be aware that there may be something more ominous at the root of the problem such as verbal abuse, sexual abuse, rape. Again don’t panic, you need to first establish a safe space where your child can talk to you and then you can seek the help they need. (My parents had no idea that I had been sexually abused as a child).
  • Make them feel wanted and validated. Again, if you don’t know how to do that, ask them.
  • Get them professional help. If you can’t afford it, find someone they can talk to (church counselor, youth leader, etc) or go to this resource.

If you are a self cutter….

Know that you are priceless, worthy, wanted, and loved.

You are priceless because you were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). So priceless in fact, that you were paid for in blood. But it was not your blood that was required, it was paid by the blood of Jesus.

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You are worthy, because He gave you worth. Whatever worth the world may want to give you, it cannot compare to the worth given to you by God, the Almighty Creator. (Romans 8:32)

You are wanted because He searches for you (Luke 19:10). One doesn’t seek for that which he doesn’t want and yet, Jesus seeks you. The son of God wants you.

You are so loved, that a King died for you. Not just any king, but the King of kings (Romans 5:8). Is there a greater expression of love than that?

Related Article: Who is Jesus? A Response from a Broken Woman

It is when I started to internalize these four truths, that I was able to come out of the shadows and the darkness that I lived in. Note that my circumstances at home had not changed — my home was still broken and in some ways it got worse after I found Jesus. But if Jesus loved that big-haired, heavy-metal loving, grumpy and self-cutting teenager, Jesus will love you too.

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If Jesus is new to you and you want to know more about him, feel free to contact me, find a local Bible-based church, start reading about him in the Bible here, or read one of my articles about him. But also find someone that you can talk to, a teacher, a coach, a friend’s parent who is trustworthy. You can also call this hot line sponsored by Focus on the Family and ask for their counseling department: 1-800-A-Family. You do not have to walk through this alone, because you are not alone.

I am interested in your thoughts! Please comment below.

4 thoughts on “Self-Cutting: Why People Do It and How To Help Them?”

  1. Dear Luisa,
    thank you so very much for opening up about your struggles and giving hope that with God‘s help things Can get better! i‘m one of those mothers who ended up terribly hurting their child despite the best intentions. i have been reading a lot lately about broken mother- daughter relationships and most articles advise to distance yourself from a toxic relationship, because what‘s the point, she (mother) will never change anyway, so just save yourself.. I‘m so very grateful that you prove that you can approach it differently and actually heal the relationship.
    Thank you so very much! your work is not in vain. You‘re such a strong and beautiful person!
    God bless you!

    1. Yes, as long as God is involved, there is always hope! I am thankful that you have been encouraged by my story. When I was locked in the root of bitterness, I couldn’t see how could ever forgive my mom. And yet, God worked within me to get there. I pray you will find that same reconciliation too. Blessings.

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