My article below can be found in the March/April issue of Kaio magazine; a Christian magazine for teens.
I am sure you know someone who “cuts” and I don’t mean “cuts” apples. You’ve seen the marks on her arm or maybe you have a friend who cuts and you’re worried.
Self-mutilation, often done by cutting, is a sure sign of some serious problems in a person’s life. Teens primarily self-mutilate in order to deal with their emotions. Instead of crying, writing in a journal, or discussing the issue, the person will physically harm his or herself. There are several reasons that teens and even adults use this dangerous coping skill. I hope that if you understand this behavior then you will be able to help someone or even yourself.
People, usually guys, self-mutilate because of unregulated rage. Instead of punching someone, when a guy gets made, he punches a wall or tears something up. This is unhealthy because, well, a broken hand is not fun and this type of response shows nothing but a lack of self-control. Some guys believe it to be a sign of strength, but it’s really a sign of weakness. Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
A second reason people cut is to get relief from anxiety or depression. Pain can bring about pleasure. This sounds weird, but the brain chemical dopamine is released when pain is experienced and this helps to calm us. Have you ever ridden a roller coaster, screamed your head off, and then when it’s over, you feel relaxed? You experience a high level of anxiety on the ride and your brain releases dopamine to cope. This isn’t often done the first time with cutting as the body has to be trained to respond to the behavior as pleasurable. People get into this state because they’d rather feel the physical pain cutting brings than bear their other emotional burden. In cases like this, cutting can become an addiction. What one cut did for the person early on, it now takes twenty to get the same effect. This is dangerous as accidental death could occur.
Another reason people self-mutilate is for friendships. Maybe the person has no friends, but through cutting, she can be a part of the group that does it too. While this may seem foolish, treatment is still needed as their pain is real. This is the only group that would absolutely not be hospitalized. Why? They meet other cutters and this only serves to strengthen their behavior.
A final reason people self-mutilate is to practice for suicide. Not everyone who cuts wants to kill themselves, but if a person is engaged in this behavior then it could be something they are considering. By cutting, a person decreases their anxiety about suicide and thus can eventually go through with it.
If you are concerned about a friend, please talk to someone. Some things to look for are cuts on the inside of the forearm that might be hidden by long sleeves. The stomach and legs are also typical places because they can’t be checked easily by a School Counselor or seen readily by a parent.